Sunday, December 2, 2012

Formatting Blues

I love being an author.  I love being my own publisher.  Mostly. 

Except when I can't get formatting correct.

Ok.  Be prepared to bored.  Unless, of course, you are anal retentive and/or detailed oriented.  Then, this might be some exciting stuff.

See, books are more difficult to craft than they appear.  First off, finishing a story of 60,000-100,000 words or more is a massive undertaking.  Most people will tell you they have a book idea in them or have always written stories.  I did that for years.  Until I sat in the chair and did the WORK, I didn't realize how difficult it is to FINISH.

Secondly, books are not easy to get to them to appear the way they do.  Why is that?  It LOOKS easy.  I suppose, in a world where I own my own copy of Adobe InDesign, formatting a book may just be a matter of the mastering the learning curve of the software.  It is not for the faint of heart.  And, neither is formatting a print book using Microsoft Word.

I will refrain from going into the gory, boring details of all the ins and outs of publishing a book.  However, to enlighten you a smidge, allow me to use one example.  It is difficult to align the text at the bottom of page while not sending the first sentence of a paragraph to the next page or to finish a paragraph on the top line of the next page (called "Widows" and "Orphans"). 

Microsoft Word has a button you can choose that will automatically fix the widows and orphans.  However, this causes several other odd occurrences.  One thing it does is once in a while the lines at the bottom of facing pages do not line up.  So, on the left hand page, the page ends one line up from the page number (or bottom of page), and on the right hand page, it ends two or three lines up. 

This may not sound like a great big deal.  It is.  A book needs to "look" a certain way.  You may pick up a book with improper formatting and not realize what is wrong with it exactly, but you will probably be able to tell it was done by an amateur.  Like me.

So, I learned how to fix both problems.  Sometimes it requires some creative paragraphing.  Sometimes it requires some careful pruning or growing of the words used.  It makes you look back over those two facing pages and ask the fateful question.  "Is there anything here I don't need?"  Or, an equally daunting question, "Should I add more here?  What and where can I add?"

When the editing is finally finished, I want the book to look a certain way.  For DARK MOUNTAIN, I was merely tickled to have it on the bookshelf.  For my next books, I want to perfect the craft of publishing.

That goes true for my writing as well. Since I feel a greater affinity for the writing, for the cathartic process of cutting open a vein and bleeding onto the keyboard, I don't feel I am far from hitting my stride.  I have a lot of room to grow my writing, but my graphic arts and publishing skills are just starting to shed the starter feathers.  In contrast, my writing is ready to fly, I just need to get the altitude right.

About Deadlines

Normally, I love deadlines.  They give me a finite amount of time to procrastinate. 

When deadlines are self-imposed, they seem more wishy-washy.  Except, I was serious about my deadline for CRY ME A RIVER.  And, I was serious about getting a play script together for my High School drama group for LTC.

However, due to some plot snags and some huge deviations from my original outline, I managed to get the entire manuscript finished about a month before my deadline.  Then editing happened.  I had to change a lot.  I had Create Space formatting problems.  I wrestled with look and feel of the book. 

Finally, I submitted a (mostly) edited copy for proofing.  I ordered that proof copy about a week before my deadline. It took six days to receive the proofs. 

Granted, the cover looks stupendous.  However, I am finding more and more corrections to make.  In addition, I have it submitted to two beta readers and my copy editor (my wife).  She is still poring over the book and so I get regular updates on more of my idiotic mistakes.  However, she isn't finished.  Plus, I still haven't received feedback from my two beta readers. 

Once the editing/beta reading stage is finished, I will get it edited, re-formatted and submitted for publication immediately.  So far, the changes are minor.  It is such a good story, I am excited to have people read it.

But,  I feel like I am missing some opportunity.  I wanted to make the Christmas rush.

This whole deadline thing got me to thinking.  Why am I so concerned about a deadline?  I am not going to get demoted.  Although many people are still looking for gifts for the holidays, I think the post-Christmas boom for ebooks will be greater than the pre-Christmas sales.

And the play.  Well.  I am just being lazy.  I want to get it written.  I even have some great ideas that fit the theme and meet the criteria of the group.  I am just feeling like it won't get done until January.  I think my feeling is that over the next four hectic weeks, my drama group is NOT going to memorize their lines.  The only good thing is that if I prepare it for the deadline tomorrow, we will be able to make changes to it so that we can have an edited copy by January's practice. 


Now I think I am ambivalent to deadlines.  Sure, they still give me a finite time in which to procrastinate.  However, I just want more time.

Do you relish or dread deadlines?  Or, are do you care?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Good Day Green Country Promotion

I was so happy when my friends from The Book Place in Broken Arrow contacted me to let me know they were promoting my book, DARK MOUNTAIN, on Good Day Green Country on FOX Channel 23 Tuesday, September 25th. 

I embedded the video at the top left of this page.  Check it out! 

I was so excited to be mentioned in the same breath with the PC Cast, The Pioneer Woman, Dr. Oliver, JK Rowling!  Such an incredible feeling.

And if you haven't read my book yet, you can get it locally at The Book Place, or click through the orange link on the left here to get to my website,  It's available on the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple ereader devices and you can also get a paperback shipped directly to you from Amazon.

Thursday, I hope to have a copy of the article that will run in the Weston Democrat from an interview I had with reporter Susan Bentley.  God is so good.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reviewing the reviewers

We are a culture that has grown accustomed to reviews.  We review restaurants, movies, sports, television shows, and products.  Reviews are what help consumers make choices.  I want some good sushi, I will read what reviewers think.  I want to make sure that hotel I just booked doesn't have mice, I will read the reviews on 

Reviews and reviewers are common and an important part of marketing.  No one wants a bad review of their new theatre production or make-up collection, or oil change service. 

Two opposing problems are beginning to surface in the world of reviewing and I think books are getting hit the hardest by these excesses. 

First, the overly glowing review.  Sometimes, people over react.  Maybe the lasagna was the best you ever tasted, but are you sure?   Maybe it is a great book, but is that adjective inclusive of a large range of greatness? 

The first thing that I think of when I read an overly glowing review is:  "Who cares what their Mom thinks, anyway?"  Worse, sometimes I wonder if the author PAID to have someone say that.  In infomercials the advertiser is required by law to say that the people on camera were compensated for their appearance. 

The reason for this is because it skews things.  If someone made me ride the Total Gym and filmed it without my consent and didn't compensate me for it, they may not be able to use my opinions of the contraption to market their product.  Pay me a few hundred dollars and prepare me for the experience and I will try to say something nice.  You know, because everyone's watching.  I'm not dishonest, I am just easy to manipulate.

Am I imagining these things?  No. Some indie authors actually talk about it openly on forums.  I just shake my head.  As if indie authors weren't getting enough bad rap for the writing (most times, deserving, I know), now we are paying people to say nice things on Amazon just to falsely promote our stuff?

When someone reads my books, do I want them to review it?  YES!  I even ask (read, beg) people I know who have read the book to take the time to review it for me.  I don't care if they give it 3 stars out of 5.  If that is their honest opinion, I will accept it.  Plus, I need their feedback.  I wanna get better, tell stories that resonate with people, create characters that people remember.  With honest feedback like unbiased reviews, I can do that.  But, will I ever PAY someone to do it, or even give away my book with the understanding that it will get a 5 star review before they even finish reading it?  No.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the negative review.  I understand when someone doesn't like a book (except for mine, of course).  But, sometimes people go overboard.  Look, I have endured some really bad movies.  I just turn the thing off.  If something offends me, bores me, makes me uncomfortable, or isn't my cup of tea, I try not to be too harsh.  I might say: "It was so bad I turned it off and put it back in the mail to Netflix." Or, if the food is so bad or the service so horrible, I just don't tip, or go back to eat there. 

I am not advocating not leaving a negative review.  Don't get me wrong.  Maybe someone else will be helped by learning that your local pub has cockroaches, or the waitress will hit on your husband unabashedly right in front of you.  I just think that there is a decorum and a sense of right that needs to be followed.  Sometimes, we Americans, especially we Christians, get too wrapped up in our own sense of righteous indignation.  Sometimes, bigots, racists, atheists, functioning illiterates, and self-serving cynics leave reviews so scathing that their biases are evident.  Maybe we feel some sort of calling to warn those other Christians, or bigots, or racists as to the nature of the poor novel or novelist. 

An example would be a Christian who would dain to read the 50 SHADES stuff.  If they were brave enough to read that sort of book and then give a 1 star review with scathing remarks and a huffy manner, it doesn't really do what they wanted it to do.  They made themself look worse than the book and might have just sold a few more copies of it.  Conversely, if a person that is bigoted toward people from the Middle East were to leave a blistering review of THE KITE RUNNER, their bias may be so strong that people can see through it and buy the book just because they felt sorry for the author. 

Negative reviews, and there are a plethora of them even for the most popular and well regarded books, are most often the least helpful reviews.  The three-star to four-star reviews often reflect more insight into the book and why it didn't work for that particular reader.  Often, what is repugnant or boring to one reader will be exactly what another reader is wanting from their next read.  The problem with negative reviews is that so much vitriol is expended about the level of just how poor the novel is, they don't give salient and intelligent reasons for why they hate said trash. 

So, I guess I can sum this up by saying that reviews are important.  If you have something good to say, be honest.  If you have something negative to say, be specific.  More to the point, specificity is global when it comes to reviews. 

Let me know what you liked:  the characters, the way the book had twists and turns, the way it ended.  If it sucks monkey butts, let me know why.  Was the author's grammar so poor, you couldn't read it (I have had that happen a couple of times), was the drama too dramatic, or do you have a specific bias that the author just happened to rub the wrong way?  Just admit it.  Say it.  That way I can review your review and maybe put a one star beside it instead of having a  review smack-down right there on Amazon or Goodreads with you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nittany Lion Death Penalty

I usually post about the writing craft: tips, book reviews, grammar nuances, essence of a story, etc.  Today, I wanted to rant a little.

First, I need to make it plain that I am in no way a Penn State fan.  Never liked Joe Pa, really. Thought it was silly that he hung on past his prime, past his ability to coach.  It was extremely egotistical and nostalgic for him to insist and the Penn State powers that be, to relent to his coaching past his 76th birthday.

There, I said my peace on that.

With all that behind me, I feel that the discussion of a "death penalty" for the university football team is a complete over-reaction to the sins of the father.  I have heard this "sins of the father" bit spat out by well-meaning journalists and critics.  The matter at hand is a larger, broader failure than a single football team, a single university. 

This phrase assumes first that Joe Pa was the father.  He allowed the criminal, Jerry Sandusky, to continue his role with the university even after learning of Mr. Sandusky's proclivities.  This was a grievous and unforgivable error, for sure.  His storied career, his influence on young men, his legacy were tarnished by this one error of judgment.  The crime, the criminal, his enablers, and the football department caused irreparable damage to the image of the school, the sport, and the NCAA in general. 

But, we are missing the point.   
The punishment of a "death penalty" does not fit the crime, nor does it fit as a proper punishment for the president, coach, athletic director, coaching staff, and student athletes of the university.  Sandusky deserves a life sentence without parole, or worse.  Joe's statue probably needs to come down, mostly due to the bad taste and the message of condoning it sends.  But, the death sentence is a poor, desperate attempt for those with righteous indignation (and well-deserved) to appease their sense of justice.

But, punishing a football program whose leader has passed from this life, whose athletic director, and school president no longer work for the university, serves to punish only those who had no direct bearing upon the crimes, the criminal that perpetrated them, or the blind eyes that were turned and allowed it to continue.  A death penalty only punishes the students, the personnel, the boosters, the fans, and the people who are left to pick up the pieces from this unprecedented mess.

Our society is guilty of doling out meaningless punishment of demanding justice in as many ways as possible.  The death penalty would be indicative of a punishment brought about because the public sentiment demands that a wrong was perpetrated and needs to be punished--justice must be meted out.  Employees of Penn State managed to look the other way while a co-worker committed heinous crimes against children.  These atrocities are both deserving of punishment.  A death penalty for the university is perhaps the wrong target for that punishment.  What do you think?

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Death On a High FloorDeath On a High Floor by Charles  Rosenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a good novel, but suffers from believability issues. It reminded me of television police/court dramas, without the melodrama.

The problem stemmed from the narrator. We never get a legitimate explanation of why he trusts Ms. James (his defense counsel, also a suspect in the investigation of the murder). Perhaps even more serious is the constant nag in the back of my mind that this was a police set-up all along. My first clue? Early in the novel, the investigating officer insinuates that Ms. James should be a suspect but she is never investigated. That is in addition to the removal of the narrator's jacket. Then, clues of this conspiracy get dropped over and over with only a clueless shrug from the narrator: and this is told in past tense.

If a narrator tells a story in first person in the past tense and only drops HINTS of clues without some explanation makes that narrator untrustworthy. I understand that it would ruin the suspense, the reveal, but it is also cheap and dishonest. Either it needed a different narrator, a different voice, or a change of the circumstances.

Throughout the novel, we are led down the path of "Jenna might have done it....NAHH!! She would never do that!" Over and over again. The thing is, even at the end, we know she is not pristine, but we can't pinpoint what she has done wrong. She is painted as a femme fatale, a role playable by Angelina Jolie or Ali Larter. But, the author never comes full circle, never exposes her rougher side: it is always hinted at. And we never get the full picture of her uncle, either. Maybe the author is saving this for the next book, which might make sense. The reader, though, has the sense that we need to feel that she COULD have done it, but that she didn't and her motive to defend the narrator is her way of getting retribution for the murder of her lover.

In the end, the novel is good, but flawed. With the feel of a made-for-television court drama, the pacing of Grisham and Patterson with unique narrative voice, DEATH ON A HIGH FLOOR is a book I can recommend.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Production is King

As I watch the success of fellow self-publishers, I try to maintain a sense of calm.  I have one book, Dark Mountain, published so far and have had a mediocre first two months. I have learned a ton.  Perhaps the biggest thing that I have learned so far is to be patient. 

Failure tends to demand that reaction, doesn't it?  The Colts have a miserable season with Manning in the stands and the ownership flips the entire organization on its tail.  Be patient.  The economy is in the toilet, unemployment is rampant, drug use on the rise, housing prices plummeting, foreclosures skyrocketing.  Be patient.

So, the only remedy I can truly see is more production.  Write.  Write some more.  I wrote recently about a difficult scene in my current work-in-progress, Cry Me a River.  What a bunch of whiny dreck.  I just wrote it.  Powered through it and ate up 15,000 words in three days.  Finished with a 8,000 word flourish. 

The remedy, you see, is to get behind a keyboard and do what you do best.  So, with another productive week ahead (20,000 words should get me to the end of the book), I will get the next book out before November.  And, soon after that, I plan on having the first of a series of adventure/suspense novels, my Jake Monday series, ready for editing.

The more novels you have, the more legitimate you seem as a writer.  It is then easier to cross-market, to brand, to develop a fan base that no longer just reads your books in obscurity but recommends them to friends and family, tweet about them, adds them on Goodreads, and buys the merchandise.

This is truly a wonderful time to be a writer.  We can never lose sight of that.  But, in this new world of publishing, production is king.  Do you find an author with a "long tail" (multiple books published, big back-list) to have more legitimacy, or does this even factor in when looking for that new book for your Kindle/Nook/Kobo/Ipad?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Scene You Don't Want to Write

I have been struggling recently with a scene in my new novel, Cry Me a River.  I have done everything I can to procrastinate, avoid, and fret.  I have researched, I have worked on other projects (this blog, for instance), I have socialized on Facebook and Twitter, and I have read books.  Now, three days have passed and I have written a grand total of 455 words. 

The problem is, the scene causes me emotional and physical pain.  Why? Well, when dealing with emotions in my writing--anger, disappointment, joy--I try to embody those emotions within myself while writing.  I feel this allows me to portray those feelings with more honesty and realism.  The scene in question deals with the death of a loved one (a daughter's ashes are being returned to a Colombian village).  To properly be "in the moment," I have to emphathize with the mother, with the bearer of the ashes, and with the missionary who had enabled the relationship with the American husband that took the daughter from her home country. 

Some of these emotions, I have a difficult time processing.  I do not willingly want to expose myself to those raw feelings.  They are too visceral, too heart-wrenching.  So, I hem and haw, waste time and don't do it.  Can I write the scene without tapping into those emotions? Sure.  But it wouldn't ring true.  I want a masterpiece, not a soap opera or a television drama. The risk is that without embodying those emotions while I write, I will overdramatize them.  Melodrama:  something I want to avoid.

The task at hand is daunting, but not impossible.  Like many people, I am stalling.  The truth is, I WANT to write this scene.  It is a pivotal, powerful scene, full of conflicting emotions, drama, and love.  I want to write that.  I want to feel those things.  With sadness, grief, anger, love, joy, disappointment, and desire, we are attuned to life.  We know we live if we experience these inner tragedies and victories.  My book is about embracing life, and so this scene is important.  Perhaps that is why I am stalling:  I want it to be perfect.  I want it to be powerful.  I know that means it will take a toll on me as a writer, the creator, if I want it to convey something to you, the reader. Is that so bad?

Off to work I go.  I hope to have it finished by Monday.  I will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The State of Publishing

I am not an alarmist.  I am not someone who cries "The sky is falling!"  I make no accusations or prophesies.  I do not pretend to know what the future holds. 

However, I can smell a skunk when he is near.  I can see a rotten apple before I pluck it.  I can hear a train coming and know not to cross the tracks.  I can taste the spoiled milk and know to throw it out.

I began writing when I was young.  Before I ever took a college creative writing course, I had studied the craft of writing and followed the publishing world.  I submitted articles, anecdotes, jokes, and stories to magazines for 5 cents per word or less.  Sometimes, contributor's copies weren't even offered.  I knew then that writing was a pitiful career choice.  The potential for ruin for the shy, the fainthearted, the under-talented, was great.  I dared only to enter into the lake of publishing by dipping my toes in the water. 

My only other activity concerning writing for decades was to wait.  To watch.  To refine my skills, define my audience, and confine my art to a drawer and a hard drive.  Recently, with the advent of a new era in self-publishing, I have awakened the hope and wonder of my semi-dormant skills and faith in becoming a published author. It was a dream I didn't think would ever transpire.

As I continued to research, I continued to hold a fondness, a loyalty, to the legacy of the publishing world.  The historical behemoths of publishing, the massive, dinosaur-like monstrosities in New York and Chicago, in London and Toronto seemed impregnable, but rightfully so.  Not everyone DESERVES a chance at publication.  For God's sake, it is best that some are not given that opportunity to muck up the pristine waters of the lake.  What a bunch of baloney.

I don't write romance novels. I have only read a few.  Some were my mom's Harlequins, more than two decades ago.  However, I have always known that the market and the authors of these books made a pittance.  I read this post by famous self-pubbed, whiner extraordinaire, viciously enthusiastic supporter and trumpeter of self-publishing, JA Konrath.  Although I don't drink Mr. Konrath's kool-aid 24/7, he often makes salient points and gives some sound advice if you have the time to wade through the detritus of his arguments and rantings to find the scraps and nuggets of goodness. 

This particular post, though, was completely enlightening.  So much so, I had to share it and my absolute distaste for Harlequin and their poor business practices.  The post is written by Ann Voss Peterson, author of PUSHED TO FAR.  Her career is very impressive in terms of total books published and total books sold.  But, Harlequin publishing hasn't treated her fairly at all, if you read the post.

I don't believe them to be "evil," any more than coal companies in the early 1900's were evil.  Or Enron was evil.  Or Exxon Mobile and the offshore drilling are evil.  They are advantageous, as most businesses are, but they have overstepped the boundaries of good taste and fair business practice.  Poor taste and bad practice to the point that they should be made to stop. 

It is the Harlequin's of the world, and agents who support them through their contract negotiations, who are turning the tide of this war on publishing.  The first salvos from the self-pubbed camp have been pathetic, with a few scattered victories to lift spirits.  There have also been defections and converts, but now, the corrupted system (think Rome) is being exposed and it may not be too long before the lake of publishing overflows its dam and creates a new body of water altogether.  I am not intoning the death knell of the Big 6.  They aren't called the Big 6 for nothing.

Right now, only a chosen few are feeling the ground swell.  Some readers are beginning to sense the shift, but are just getting over their "free book" high and seeing their Kindles and Nooks full of unreadable dreck and overpriced Best Sellers.  Soon, though, the authors themselves, will be running for the hills, hiding in the woods, turning printing presses and hiring out cover artists, laid off publicists, editors, and marketing directors.  Soon, agents will be offering service packages for a flat fee and a smaller take of the royalties (5% of 70% on a $4.99 ebook is bigger than 15% of 2.4% on a $5 mass paperback, right? The agent makes 18 cents per copy rather than 2 cents!).  Soon, more print-on-demand stores will open.  Soon, vanity presses will lower their costs.  Soon, more online ebook stores will open, offering more to the consumers.  Bigger discounts, more selection, exclusive content, bundled purchases, merchandise giveaways, etc.  Jeesh, I am starting to sound like Konrath!

But, seriously, check out her book, give Ann Voss Peterson some props.  Support your local artists, whether they be musicians, artists, or authors.  I read PUSHED TOO FAR myself, and her writing is very similar to Patterson's.  Engaging, suspenseful, and interesting.

As far as writing goes, though, before you go skinny dipping in the lake of publishing, you better look close before you leap.  There are sharks and alligators waiting to eat you up, if you aren't careful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics: Editing

I have already discussed editing before, but I think the subject is so imperative to self-publishing that it couldn't be ignored when discussing the basics.  Editing comes in many forms.  To completely understand the process of publishing is not my goal here, but I feel it important to at least hit the high spots of how a book goes to print.

The Author's Edits

As writers, we need to understand that grammar, spelling, and punctuation are crucial to ensuring that our message is clear.  I teach writing students that the number one rule of writing is clarity.  If  we can't make others understand, then we have failed.  Our job is communication:  ideas, stories, events, information, emotions, or messages.  Our readers must be able to pick up our book and at least on the surface, understand what we are trying to convey.

To do this, we as authors must be the first and most stringent editors.  This is difficult, because we often gloss over small details. Our inner voice "hears" the comma and therefore it is there, whether we typed it or not.  We read it to ourselves and see "him" when it actually says "hem."

I am as guilty of this as anyone, so I do not feign superioritity, but rather empathy.  Recently, I submitted my novel DARK MOUNTAIN to a friend to edit it.  At our first meeting, she asked me, "Did you know you start a lot of sentences with 'And?'"  I nodded, realizing that I did in fact do this purposefully at times.  I also don't add a conjunction sometimes in compound sentences on purpose.  I try for a unique style and voice that transcends grammatical rules without sacrificing the reading experience, the clarity (see, I did it right there).  The problem was, when I re-visited the manuscript, I saw something HORRIFYING.  I didn't just use this technique once or twice per chapter but rather multiple times on EVERY PAGE! Boy, was I ever embarrassed. 

Other things that crop up:  the Oxford Comma (serial comma, the one after the "and" in a list), the ommission of words ("he went the trip"),  and lack of capitalization (coke instead of Coke).  More probably exist, I don't know.  The point is, as the writer, your edit goes first.

The author's edit needs to go deeper than grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  We need to be aware of all of the elements of a story.  This is a tall order, but if we have honed our craft, then it becomes easier.  First, if you are to be a writer, you need to be a READER.  Understand what story elements work:  pacing, dialogue, plot twists, character development, suspense, paragraph develepment, sentence length variance, transition words, story intros, rising action, resolutions, multiple plots, interweaving plots, and more.  Understand the elements that are common to your genre by reading in your genre. 

The second step you can take in order to hone your craft is to study.  Plenty of resources exist at the library, online, in writing magazines, and through writing classes offered locally.  The best way to become a better writer is to spend time writing, find an audience, and discover what works and what needs more work.  You have natural strengths as a writer; nourish them.  You have natural weakness, too.  These you will need to strengthen through practice, study, and feedback from an audience.  Writer's critique groups are great places to hone your skills, and tighten your writing.  Be prepared to offer as much constructive feedback as you receive; a critique group becomes stronger only if every member gives as well as receives.

The Line/Copy Editor

Once you have polished your novel to the best of your ability and feel it is strong the way it is, it is time to send it off to get it taken apart and taken to a different level.  That would be what editors do.  Before you cringe, thinking this is too harsh of a punishment for the baby you have sent out, realize that this part of the process is necessary.  You are too close to the novel.  You have birthed it, wiped its little story bum, burped it, and watched as it took its first steps and spoke its first words.  Now it is time for someone else to mold this young'un to make it better. 

Think of an editor as a grandmother, a loving kindergarden teacher, a Bible school teacher or a favorite Aunt.  Their role with your baby is important, but they are removed from it.  In the end, the grandmother hands the baby back to the parent with its bum dry, a few more sweets than is normally recommended, and smile on her face.  The point is, they love your baby, too.  They just see it differently than you do.  You may find that they can be more strict, more precise, and less attached to your baby than you are.

This can result in the recommendation to cut characters, lose chapters, change directions, change the order of events, add a section, fill in plot gaps, fix get the picture.  Your spit and polish is all fine and good, but the editor brings in a butcher knife, a plunger, and a brush.  Some things need to be cut, some sucked out, and some spread around. 

The Conclusion

In the end, all of these editing processes are necessary.  They occupy a totally different skill set to putting the story on paper (screen).  The self-published world gets knocked hard because writers rush things out, don't edit, don't have the writing chops, and don't get their work edited.  It is a shame.  Some of these writers actually may have a good yarn to tell.  By ignoring editing, they make a mess of things.  They ruin their reputation and continue to support the opinions of those who think that self-published writing is "dreck."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics Part 2: Creating A Cover

Books are judged by their covers.  This is one truism (or "truthiness") that seems to always apply.  If you have decided to self-publish, let me recommend that you take some time to study book covers.  Look at covers that have caught your eye and covers that are appropriate for your genre.  By this I mean BEST SELLING covers for novels in your genre.  Some covers out there, especially among self-pubbed books, are very amateurish.

I chose to go a little outside my genre (thrillers), and incorporate some imagery and cover format that had worked to draw my eye.  I have always been partial to a solid block of color behind the author's name/title of the book.  Some cover artists can blend the type into a dark spot of the cover art, or a place where there is a solid color.  This allows the title to "pop" and also allows the reader to delineate between the image and the title.  The two should connect, by the way.  The image should reflect in some way either the title or the theme of the book.   Unless there is a murder at the picnic, a bucolic scene with a field of flowers, a bench with a family around it laughing does not a mystery cover make.

Covers are art.  That is the way you must see it.  This art can be as simple as type face over a solid color, photo images and type or illustration/painting with type, or any variation of those.  The point of the art, the point of the cover, is to draw potential readers to pick up the book, to click on it and read more.

Now, I by no means am an expert at this, but I have a good eye.  I have read thousands of books and have perused libraries and bookstores for three decades.  I know what stands out.  I have watched the trends.  I notice when a book cover for a particular novel (i.e. Game of Thrones or The Stand) changes.  I notice when a cover I find appealing, but is outside of my reading circle--romance, for example--catches my eye and then becomes popular.  For sure, the popularity of novels is not dependent upon their covers, but on their contents.  Some books succeed IN SPITE of their covers.  The Stand was one of them, Stieg Larsson's Girl series is another.

The practical side of the cover is the design of it in preparation for print.  Many of the Print-On-Demand publishers like Create Space and Lulu provide tools to make this task easier.  But, just like many other areas of self-publishing, you must don another hat, develop another skill.  If you don't have proficiency with Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign or some other design studio software, I recommend that this task is one that you hire out to someone that does.  A good graphic artist, a cover designer, or even a graphic design student can provide the PDF document or JPEG image you will need to provide your cover.

Another practical consideration you must keep in mind is the art/photography.  I am not a photographer.  I used to be a fair illustrator but have not honed those skills in decades.  Find a photographer you like or subscribe to iStock photos or eShutter or some other online stock photo marketplace.  You can get pictures there royalty free for less than a dollar.  Or, if you like the personal touch, digital photography is an art form in itself.  If you would like to marry that talent with your talent for writing, then that could be your best option.

The beauty of self-publishing is that YOU have the control.  YOU make the decisions.  However, it is also the burden you bear because, in the end, the success or failure is on you as well.  You have to have good content, a good story told with craftmanship.  You have to have an attractive cover that draws in readers.  You also have to have a good marketing plan that puts your title, your name and your brand in front of as many people as possible.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics Part 1--Formatting

You can easily find a ton of help out there for self-publishing, if that is your goal.  I am new at this, but I have followed self-publishing for almost a decade.  I want to impart some of what I have discovered and chronicle my journey into self publication.  My first book, Dark Mountain, was just released.  I am making it availabe in both print and electronic versions, because I believe that both mediums are important.  Some will laud one over the other and there is much debate over print vs. ebooks as well as traditional publishing vs. indie publishing.  I believe that there is an audience for both print and electronic books.  I also believe that authors should be able to enjoy the benefits of both traditional publishing and self-publishing.  Neither has to be mutually exclusive of the other. 

Formatting Your Book For Print

The biggest hurdle in self-publishing a book is that you need to incur some extra-writerly talents and skill sets.  One of the first skills you must use, once you decide how you are going to market your book, is to format it for publication.  Obviously, this step takes place after you have written the book and edited it thoroughly. 

You will probably be formatting for several formats (Kindle=html; CreateSpace = PDF or .doc; Smashwords = .doc, etc.), so remember to always have a clean copy or two of your original manuscript.  I kept five:  one for editing (clean manuscript with bookmarks at chapters so I could easily navigate when fact-checking); one to submit to agents (that didn't pan out); one for print publication (page numbers, headings, cover pages, etc.); and two for the electronic version--one in .doc or normal MS Word, and one in .htm format. 

This can get confusing, but if you name them to remember, it makes it easier.  You can also put them in separate files, to keep it straight.  The point is, be prepared to do formatting more than once, especially if you are publishing it in multiple formats.

First, I recommend highly that you stick to MS Word.  It is the easiest to use and has the most widely recognized format.  In fact, to publish to Smashwords, it is almost impossible to get your manuscript accepted without it.  Each version (2003,2007, 2010) each has its benefits and inconsistencies, but they are all generally the same. 

Second, get your manuscript edited.  I will cover this in another post, but it is still an important step you cannot ignore.  It will cost money, but it is worth it.

If  you are seeking to have your book published in print (via Lulu or Createspace or others), I recommend that you download a template for the size of book you are seeking to publish.  This can be everything from a mass market paperback size to a common 6" x 9" trade paperback.  Once you do that, it can be as simple as copying and pasting your book into the template.  You can alternately study the template design (page widths, margins, gutters, sections, headers and footers, etc.) and apply those to your manuscript.  Don't forget to save the document under a different name (instead of "Title.doc," save it as "Title 6x9.doc" or something similar). 

This step can be daunting.  Some publishing service providers offer a service that does the formatting for you for a charge.  In fact, at any one step, Lulu, CreateSpace and other print-on-demand (POD) publishers offer services for a fee.  Often, they are great bargains.  Mostly, if you have the technical savvy, patience, and time, you can do them yourself for free.  I did them myself and saved over $500 total. 

Formatting Your Book for Electronic Distribution

If you are seeking to digitally publish your book, then start with your clean, original manuscript in MS Word.  Select "All" and then "Clear Formatting."  You should see a pretty plain document, with all the fonts removed.  This is the best way to start your formatting for Kindle or Smashwords.  Save the document as a different title--"Title Clear.doc" or "Title Digital.doc" will suffice.  Then, you can go in and create bookmarks, paragraphing, etc.  Re-save the document and then "Save As" html, formatted.  This is the format that Kindle demands in order for it to be published in its newest format.  It can also be converted this way to Epub and Mobi formats (Apple, B & N, etc.) as well.

I could go deeper, give more information, but these are the basics.  To provide more information, this would be a very long post.  I can, however, recommend heavy research.  Each provider (CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, Smashwords, B & N direct publishing) offers TONS of help, links, and information on how to publish.  In addition, there are ebooks online as well as other blogs that offer more in-depth information about formatting.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Self-Publishing Choice

I am writing this in anticipation of my proof copy for my debut novel, Dark Mountain.  Over the next week or so I plan on writing some blog entries that cover some aspects of self publishing: formatting, choosing a POD publisher, marketing, Amazon, pricing, making a book trailer, designing a cover, making a website and branding.  Today, though, I thought it best to start at WHY I decided to self-publish in the first place.

To truly understand this decision, I have to first establish my love for writing.  I knew at the age of 12 that I would someday be a writer.  I loved books and when I wrote my first story (a sort of "Children of the Corn" knock-off), it was for an Eighth Grade English class.  I really liked my teacher, and so when she gave us a writing assignment, I really wanted to impress her.  So, having some drawing skills, I took some art paper and made a scary cover with blood dripping from the words and stapled my hand-written story inside.  I even embellished the back cover with blurbs and fake reviews.  Needless to say, she was duly impressed and gave me some very positive feedback.  I never looked back on that dream that began that day on the second floor of Weston Junior High School. 

In college, I eventually got my English degree (after flirting with Pulpit Ministry, Computer Programming, Teaching English, Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Library Science).  I knew to be a writer that all the Creative Writing courses I could take would never really advance me in my career.  They were helpful, for sure, but I wasn't prepared to live on the income of a starving writer.  I'm still not and so I have a real job in addition to writing.  I wasn't attracted to the stodginess of journalism and even though I have a salesman heart (that's what I do now), I didn't want to move to Chicago, New York, Miami or Los Angeles to work for an ad agency or marketing company.

So, I took classes, read books, researched online, and wrote as much as I could discipline myself to do with a young family and the demands of life. In other words, I produced nothing because I felt I had an excuse.  I lamented my diminishing skills (they were actually getting better), my lot in life (I have, for the most part, always moved forward), and dwelt in the Land of Pity and Self-Loathing for almost a decade.

Then, something awoke in me.  I began keeping a writer's notebook.  I began and stopped several books (some of which I plan on finishing).  I tried to get published.  I wrote articles for a homeschool publication in our state.  I wrote and produced a newsletter for our homeschool support group.  I kept honing my skills.  I kept reading literature. 

Then, about eight years ago, I got more serious. I subscribed to writer's groups, critique groups and searched for ways to expand my writing.  Eventually, I began to call myself a writer.  I let that define me and even started a blog, wrote some short stories and published them on Smashwords for free.  I subscribed to industry blogs and kept up with the publishing industry on a daily basis.  I researched agents (that was new to me:  early in my writing I had been sending to slush piles, but all that had changed). 

Then, in 2009, with several novels started, a bunch of notes for others and ideas swirling in my head, I discovered NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  It is in November and it challenges aspiring writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  It is an accomplishment, to be sure.  I participated and actually succeeded in my first attempt.  The result was mediocre.  I recognize good stories.  Dark Mountain Mean was just ok.  I put it aside, began a more ambitious novel that required massive research and kept me up at night with excitement. 

Meanwhile, Dark Mountain Mean languished on my computer, stewed for almost a year.  I pulled it back out in 2010 when I was unable to get my NaNoWriMo off the ground.  My fantasy project flopped about halfway through and I knew I wouldn't make it.  So, I picked Dark Mountain Mean back up and began the daunting task of writing the final 25,000 words and editing the mostly crappy first 50,000.   Tracey, my wife, agreed to read it while I edited the first part and finished the last part.  She actually pushed me.  She finished the first part and begged me to continue writing.  She was interested in reading about how it ended.  Her excitement lit a fire under me. 

I now knew--KNEW--I could write well.  I was finally beginning to think I was publishable AND had the discipline to finish.  But, even after completing the first draft, I knew I wasn't finished.  I began the second edit with my wife's notes in hand.  I fixed inconsistencies, bad story arcs, some spotty grammar, some sketchy moral fallacies and that took a year.

Eager to get some more positive feedback--Tracey's excitement was contagious, but she is my WIFE--I asked some folks if they would interested in reading it.  My college-bound son, Nate, and a friend from church volunteered.  Another year went by.  I began to query agents while I waited for more feedback.  I got several rejections. 

All this time I was waiting, watching.  I was a Team Big 6 proponent.  I had read (and participated a little) in self-publishing.  I was immensely disappointed in the quality of the writing.  It went beyond the bad grammar, poor formatting, amateur cover art and poor premises.  The story-telling was awful.  Just dreadful.  I am no high-brow reader, even though I can recognize the difference between Henry James and John Grisham.  I am an eclectic reader, perhaps the most widely read person I know:  everything from Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Camus to Star Wars, Forgotten Realms and Magic the Gathering. I read Stephen Covey, CS Lewis and Larry Burkett as well as biographies on Jim Brown, business books, sales training books, and motivational and devotional books.

The simple fact is:  most self-published books were sub-par.  They thankfully didn't charge much and often were free, but even that sometimes didn't make up for the poor writing.  But, I digress.

The point is, I was firmly NOT in the self-pubbing camp.  I wanted an editor. I wanted an agent.  I wanted the clap on the back that comes from acceptance into this community.  But, the longer I researched the publishing industry, I realized that the timing, the money and the hassle weren't really what I was expecting.  Agents, other writers, and  publishing professionals laud the experience as worth it, as all part of the "way things are."  The longer I listened to that, the more it sounded hollow.  I saw the same lack of editorial care with traditionally published books, I saw the hackneyed titles and regurgitated plots. 

The longer I listened, the more Amazon and Lulu and CreateSpace and Smashwords, even, looked more logical.  At least, to me.  I had made a timid attempt at getting represented.  I struggled with my query letter.  It doesn't do my story justice.  I felt rejected, because I was.

One day, I made the decision.  I knew I wouldn't go back.  Although, I might.  If offered, I would accept.  But, I want them to come calling to me, not the other way around.  I will self-publish even if it means the only people who buy my book are people I know.  I don't want to do it for any other reason other than it is my dream and I refuse to let it die.

I can't wait for the proof copy.  I already know I will have to do some more work on the cover.  In fact, I have already uploaded a new cover and edited the interior again (the 5th time).  I have about 50% of the marketing in place (website, Amazon Kindle Select, social media) and about a dozen people lined up ready to make a purchase or a download.

I am already satisfied.  To me, that little feedback from people who haven't even read my book yet sustains me.  It's like I am in Eighth Grade all over again. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Launch Soon!

I know I haven't been blogging regularly lately.  I have finally made the leap into the self-publishing fray! All things are being made ready for Dark Mountain to be published before the end of April.

I have completed the interior of the print version of the novel so far and have made a decent cover (if I say so myself).  I secured an ISBN # from CreateSpace and am using them for the POD services and the author's estore.  I will work on the HTML code for the interior this weekend and hopefully get it published to Kindle Direct Publishing before Monday.  If all goes well, I will have it available for Amazon Prime members to borrow through the Kindle Select program soon. 

I am so excited, to say the least.  Right now I am eating, sleeping, and breathing my novel.  In the meantime, check out my new website (part of the extra work I am putting in to promote the novel and my writing career).  See the new link to the right to check out my estore.  I am pricing the print version at $9.99 and the ebook version at $2.99.  You get the print version through my author's site and the ebook version I hope to have available on all devices (Kindle, Apple, Sony, Nook, etc.) when I get it up on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Be sure to "Like" my site, "+1" it or even embed my video in your site, Facebook comments, etc.  The more the merrier. I will appreciate your help and your patronage.  Keep coming back, as now I will update more regularly as I crank up the media blitz and begin to finish my other works in progress.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tips For Editing

Editing is a weird process.  It is as much about validation as it is about a surgical removal or an precise rejection of your draft.  Editing is a cultivation of ideas.  You have planted the creative seeds and now you are marking the rows, weeding around your precious plants, fertilizing the words to grow more and applying pesticides as needed to keep the pesky critics at bay.

Editing is the building inspector who does the punch list for the builder.  The idea isn't to re-create what you made, just to make it fit the plans.  You needn't destroy the whole building to do this, but you may have to re-route the plumbing, change the light fixtures and tear out a wall or two.

With this in mind, this cultivation of your original ideas, I want to share four tips that help me in the editing process.

·         Don't Edit Until You Are Done.  Ok, I know this may be near impossible for some (like me).  The idea is to limit the editing.  Writing is a separate process from editing.  Right brain/Left brain stuff.  Don't interrupt the left brain's rhythm.  We all know how fickle it can be.  Remarkably, the right brain succumbs to pressure, the left produces when it darn well wants to.
·         Once Finished, Put Your Writing Away.  Time heals wounds and exposes new ones.  That plot you felt was watertight is actually leaking like a thatch roof.  Your formatting is wrong.  Your sentence structure needs some dusting.  Distance yourself from the writing.  Two things will happen:  you will enjoy your editing process more because you are discovering those growing plants, and the second is that you won't be editing with a closed mind.  How long to put it away?  It is entirely up to you, but two weeks seems to be a good minimum.
·         Make Three Passes.  Editing is a time-consuming process.  We miss stuff.  Plus, each edit requires a different technique.  The first edit ask:  does this make sense?  The second edit, ask:  am I clear?  The third edit, ask:  is this appealing?  In other words, edit story structure, plot twists, characters, chapters, and et cetera with the first edit.  In the second edit, look at grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and connotations.  The final edit, you edit your edits and also the way the story sounds, looks and feels.  You are looking closer at tone, consistency, and the presence of the proper elements of your target genre and audience.  In the end, you should have a polished enough story to ask some friends to provide their edits as well.  Yeah.  It can become a Sisyphean task, rolling your manuscript up that hill just to watch it roll back again for all eternity.
·         Remember That Editing Is A Finite Process.  When you are done, you are done.  Put it down and see what the left brain can come up with next.  Give your right brain a break.  It has worked overtime, for free.  The left brain gets all the credit; the right brain does all the brawny tasks of creation.  So, put your hard hat, pruner and gardening gloves down and go back to planting the seeds and building the structure of your next story.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Process Of Editing

Perhaps the most difficult thing I do as a writer is edit my own work.  You want to bring me your essay, ad copy, or novel to edit for you?  Easy stuff.  I will do a bang-up job.  I will catch inconsistencies, grammatical snafu's, punctuation taboos, gaps in plot, weak sentence structure, poor word choice, overuse of dialogue tags, formatting no-no's and help with writing directed toward your audience.  NOTE:  I am not offering my editorial services. 

When it comes to editing, I actually have a two-fold dilemma.  First, as I write, I tend to analyze my writing.  Therefore, I end up typing about 60 words per minute (if you count backspaces to erase mistakes).  I used to joke when I was younger that I would wear out an eraser before I would ever grind the pencil to a stub.  Now, I suppose I would have to say my "Bk Sp" button is the most worn button on my laptop (except maybe for the poor space button--I sometimes smack that sucker with a heavy thumb). 

The second problem I encounter is that when I edit my finished work, I miss stuff.  Easy stuff.  Embarrassing stuff.  For example:  while I was editing my most recent work—The Dark Side of Leaves—I found that in a key chapter I had killed someone off that wasn't dead.  Easy fix, but it was my third edit.  And my wife has read it and not caught it.  I just thank God that I was reading through it again looking to shorten paragraphs and excise the unnecessary parts. 

From my experience, editing can be fun.  Reading through your story can open up new imaginings.  I remember the characters I enjoyed creating.  It is nice to meet them again.  But, the best part is the feeling that "I did this."  At the same time, it is difficult to take ownership of some of the more embarrassing stuff.  And this can be a deterrent.  So can a familiarity.  It breeds more than contempt:  it can also give birth to frightening lack of discipline when it comes to the craft of editing. 

Tomorrow, I will list some points to remember when editing your work.  These tips come from years of experience from perhaps the most accomplished procrastinator in the world (I once didn't file taxes for 3 years—taxes from which I would receive a REFUND). 

Is editing difficult for you?  What is the most embarrassing "miss" you ever had?

Friday, January 27, 2012

King of Inspiration

Whenever I lack inspiration for ideas or characters, I find that reading a good book can be an imagination caffeination (see, I never would have thought of that word before). It isn't that my creative energy flows directly from what I read, but rather that the book sparks certain imaginative synapses (see, there again).  Recently, I have been reading Stephen King's 11/22/63. The story is engrossing--as opposed to plain grossing, as is usual for King--but it isn't the story that has inspired me. It is King's art and craft.

King knows his stuff. No one can deny that he can spin a tale, but he also has an incredible talent for language, for the stuff of which stories are made: character, dialogue, setting and conflict. King isn't the only writer with a full writer's toolbox. Whenever I read books written with full flavor and interesting characters, with language that jumps from the page, I just find my mind turning on its own. 

It is times like these that I need to be in front of a keyboard. I must ride the wave, and take advantage of the creative energies that are generated from practicing good reading. What books, authors or reading do you find spark your creative mind?