Friday, August 27, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ A Little Star Wars Humor

Oh my, but I'm late. I have lots of excuses - school starts Monday and I've had 4 kids to buy books and supplies for all with different schedules and needs of course, had a job interview on Thursday, been discussing back and forth with hubby all week whether we should homeschool the younger two this year or go ahead and send them to school again, have a deadline for October 1st on my current WIP and still have approximately 25,000 words to go - but what all that boils down to is, I simply forgot it was my turn to post FFF this week. (Lesson, your life does not stop once you officially become a writer, now you just have more to squeeze in, so try not to forget about your blog posts! :) Okay that was a freebie.)

Anyhow, here it is, hopefully better late than never.


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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pulling the Trigger: Electronic Self-Publishing

It’d be easy to ascribe my decision to publish Jefferson’s Road on Amazon as an e-book to simple impatience. What writer isn’t eager to see his baby take its first steps? I could add to this the incredible opportunity in the market: Jefferson's Road: The Spirit of Resistance is all about angry American citizens acting on that anger and taking up arms against the government. It is timely, to say the least.

But after reading Randy Ingermanson’s and Joe Konrath’s articles about the future of e-books versus p-books (print books), I decided to take the plunge.

And I’d recommend a similar course to anyone wanting to publish for the same reasons. But be forewarned: putting your baby out there is a bold move, and you’d better be prepared to follow through.

So what steps should an author take to e-publish their book?

1. Perfect Your Product

This bears repeating: Write the best novel or non-fiction book you possibly can. Then rewrite it. Polish, polish, polish. Get some fellow writers to play Simon Cowell for you. Just because you’ve written the best novel you can doesn’t mean that it is, in fact, any good yet. You need to have the best product possible to stand above the crowd.

This is especially critical when it comes to e-publishing, because you probably won’t have an agent or an editor to point out mistakes; whether typos or major plot errors.

You can find good critique groups at places like Christianwriters.com, or even craigslist. Take a class on fiction writing at your local community college. This may be a little pricey, but it’s well worth the time and money, and it can network you to other writers, readers, and editors.


2. Prepare Your Platform

If there is any area where I’m weakest, it’s this. I don’t have much of a platform. I am on Facebook and MySpace, but not on Twitter yet (I’m old and don’t “get” it), and I have an inconsistently maintained blog. So other than chatting on various forums, I don’t have a large internet presence. I have to remedy this quickly without becoming a marketing troll.

When it comes to E-publishing, no one but you has any stake in your success. Therefore, build as large an audience as you can before you launch, and keep right on building afterwards. Books are sold by word of mouth more than anything else, so get word of your book into many mouths. Announce your book on Kindleboards.com. Identify the tags people might associate with your book and set these up as alerts in Google. When I find relevant forums where people are discussing what I write about, I sign up and introduce myself (still guarding against marketing troll behavior).

Look at Amazon’s “tag cloud” to see what people are searching for. Use this information so your book stands out in the search rankings. Another helpful resource toward this end is tagmybookonamazon.wordpress.com. This service offers a quid pro quo for writers. You tag the books listed on the site, and the authors who’ve posted previously will tag yours. Staying active and current with tags is required to stay listed on the blog. Be forewarned: there are many different books listed, and you may not wish to support them all.

Get a website. You can reserve a domain name for less than ten dollars if you shop around, and free hosting sites abound. I’ve found one that let’s me set up my website, JeffersonsRoad.com, using a convenient template. All I have to worry about is content and announcing it to the world.

Put your website, blog, and book distributorship (be sure these link directly to your book and not just to Amazon or Smashwords’ general site) in your email and forum signatures. Everyone who sees your name should immediately associate it with your book.

Blog often. At least weekly. Add or change your website content weekly as well. This way you will rise in the search rankings for your tags (you have listed these tags on your website and blog, right?) Ping your blog and website every time you update them. I use pingmyblog.com and ping-o-matic.com, but there are numerous others.

Send out a press release. Smashwords has a free e-book that describes how to do this in detail, and you can sign up for a free service at prlog.org.

Put a book trailer on youtube. Mine is here. I did it on Windows Movie Maker (comes pre-installed on most systems), but there are better packages. Incomptech.com has royalty free background music, and many places offer high-quality, low-price, royalty-free video clips to incorporate in your trailer as well. I recommend Freestockfootage.com for price. I recorded the voice-overs with an inexpensive microphone and Audacity, a free sound recording/editing program available from sourceforge.com.


3. Polish Your Packaging

Ever hear, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Hogwash. That may be good advice for how to treat people, but it’s lousy when it comes to books. We judge books by their cover art and titles long before we pick one up and flip through the first page or two.

Unless you’re a talented graphic artist, you should get help with your book cover. Smashwords has a list of experienced graphic artists, or see if you know one who might do you a favor.

If you choose to build your own cover, save it as a jpg. 300 dpi (that’s dots-per-inch) is industry standard for print. For the web, it can be a little less. Remember, you can always take a high quality image and reduce it, but you cannot take a low quality image and improve it.

4. Follow the Formatting

This one surprised me. I had visions of creating a computer version of a print book, complete with headers and footers, page numbers, and a front and back cover. I even prepared a fancy pdf with justified margins and clever little scene dividers.

This was an utter waste of time.

Pages are irrelevant when it comes to e-books. So are fancy fonts and font sizes. If you already have an e-reader, this will make perfect sense. If not, download the Kindle for Computer e-reader from Amazon (it’s free) and grab a sample chapter from your new favorite political thriller author (me!). This way, you can see what an e-book will look like once it’s produced.

Page breaks, headers and footers, and oddball fonts don’t translate well (if at all) in an e-book. It’s better to stick to basic fonts and sizes. Remove your headers and footers.

Both Amazon.com and Smashwords.com have different requirements, and if you don’t format correctly, it will prevent your book from appearing on the sites. You can find the submission guidelines on their respective websites. If your book has pictures, follow the guidelines carefully. Different electronic formats can do funky things to graphics. Save your e-book manuscript as a different file than your regular manuscript, so you don’t wind up making a horrible mistake and losing everything.

Amazon and Smashwords each have their respective advantages. Amazon clearly has the edge when it comes to distributorship and marketing through its use of tags, listmania, and rankings. But Smashwords widens the distribution beyond just Amazon to the other major e-book distributors as well. Smashwords will also provide you with a free ISBN. This won’t be the same as for your print book. Each version of your novel has to have its own unique ISBN. It’s possible to publish on Smashwords, obtain the ISBN through them, and have them convert your book into the necessary format for Amazon’s Kindle. They’ll even distribute it to them for you.

Once your book is converted, take a careful look through it before it goes “live.” Better to correct any mistakes now than after someone pays good money to buy your product, only to find it full of errors and amateur mistakes.

Finally,


5. Rally Your Readership

Turn your readers into fans. Solicit their feedback. Post their reviews on your blog (and get them to post them on Amazon, etc.). Honor their purchase with a heartfelt thank you and a personal note. Invite them to sign up for a newsletter (monthly if you can hack it, quarterly if not), and provide them with stimulating content. Keep them abreast of what you’re doing–especially when it comes to your work in progress.

Build faithful readers by continuing to publish more books, maintaining the same or better quality as the last time. It’ll take several novels before you make a living at e-books, but it can be done, and maybe even more easily now than ever. Your writing career is in your hands. Make the most of it.

Jefferson’s Road: The Spirit of Resistance


The reasons were compelling--reasons he'd thought of himself. Reasons he himself had written in cyberspace for all the world to see.

Reasons to kill the president.

But his brother wanted him to go beyond writing about it, beyond talking about it.

His brother wanted him to pull the trigger.

Tension builds throughout this novel as discussion segues into action; suspense mounts from the question always dangling in the forefront of reader's mind: will he do it?

Michael Scott's masterfully written novel explores what could be the very real, very private thoughts of angry American citizens . . . and what would happen if those citizens acted on their thoughts.

Chillingly realistic; frightfully feasible.


Jefferson's Road: The Spirit of Resistance is available on Amazon.com and at Smashwords.com. For more information about this series, please visit www.JeffersonsRoad.com.
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Resource Roundup: Streamliners and Backups

Enjoy this month’s roundup of sites and programs designed to streamline your writing life and keep your work safely backed up.

Luminary Writer’s Database: Online submission tracker that includes social networking features for sharing markets among writers.

WriteWith: Perfect for co-writers. Upload your work and assign collaborators.

Wrike: Manage your projects with the help of an email interface for adding documents and assigning tasks.

Mozy: Automatically backup selected folders (first 2GB free).

Toodledo: This task management system works well with various services, including Jott, Twitter, and Google Calendar.

Google Notebook: Google offers online storage for notes and includes instant capture via a Firefox extension.

iGoogle: Streamline your homepage with hundreds of add-on widgets, including a notebook, calendar, to-do list, and access to Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds more.

Box.net: Offers 5GB free online storage, complete with file sharing.

Jott: Transcribes voice messages to text.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

De-Verbalized

If lawyers can be disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that...

Electricians can be delighted,
musicians denoted,
cowboys deranged,
models deposed,
laundry workers could decrease,
eventually becoming depressed and depleted,
bedmakers would be debunked,
baseball players will be debased,
landscapers will be deflowered,
bulldozer operators will be degraded,
organ donors will be delivered,
software engineers will be detested,
garment workers will be debriefed,
and song writers will eventually decompose.

On a more positive note, politicians could be devoted.

Now I wonder if…

A flirt can be decoyed
a clerk defiled
a newly married woman dismissed
when Mickey retired from baseball, was his team dismantled
you lose your Grateful Dead ticket, you are disconcerted
a guy from Copenhagen loses citizenship, he is disdained
a pig loses his voice, he's disgruntled
they kick you out of the club, you're dismembered
you cut your hair, you're distressed

As for me, I can get into my Honda again, so I'm not derided-and since I had no Winter Olympic sledding aspirations, I wouldn't care if I were deluged...(and fortunately, my recent accident didn't involve amputation, so I haven't been defeated)....

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lessons from the Pros: While I was Gone by Sue Miller

Jo Becker is a perfect example of a Plain Jane protagonist. She is the main character in Sue Miller's While I Was Gone, a pick for Oprah's Book Club, but more importantly to me, an example book used in Donald Maass' The Fire in Fiction.

Jo is the wife of a minister, a mother of adult children, and a doctor of veterinary medicine. Her day-to-day life is mundane, her interaction with her kids is typical, her work is uninspiring. So what makes her so special?

She has a past which involves living communally with bohemian druggies, and the unsolved murder of her dearest friend. Her personality trait isn't unusual for characters "with a past"--Jo Becker is a private person. Miller threaded the trait throughout the novel with such expertise that I'm not even sure I would've noticed had I not taken the time to mull her story over.

Personality traits play a role in the character arc. The sullen seem brighter by the end of the book, the hopeful endure hopelessness but emerge hopeful still, the hardened soften. Jo Becker tries to be less private, but fails. She grows, but doesn't. She's still private.

Before Jo joined the commune, she was a married woman, with a terrific education and wonderful future: "A house. Children. Dogs. Money. Lovingly furnished rooms." But she wanted something else, not more, just different. She left a teaching job to become a bar waitress. Then she left her husband without notice. Just left, moved to another town, and joined the commune. No one knew where she was, not her husband, her mother, her friends from her previous life.

Once established with her new friends, she was still private. They didn't know her real name or background; she kept this information to herself.

The only person she ever told everything to was her future husband, Daniel, a habit she carried on throughout their married life. He knew her past, her present, her heart. Things she never shared with the children they'd had together. Their kids didn't know her well at all. Things she probably could've told them as they grew up, she kept inside. She was private.

But when her past caught up with her, the one time she should've been private, she wasn't. She told her husband everything. Her habit of sharing with Daniel threatened to ruin their marriage.

Sue Miller used her character's major idiosyncrasy against her, and by doing so, deepened the plot and increased the tension.

By the end of the book, Jo's growth through her character arc is slight. She's still private, as illustrated by a simple line from a friend: "That's right. Don't tell me anything."

(For a full review of While I was Gone, see my post on 777 Peppermint Place.)

(This novel was purchased from a retail dealer, and was not a gift from the author for the purpose of review.)
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Interview With Nick Harrison of Harvest House Publishing

This video interview with Nick Harrison, an Editor at Harvest House Publishing, was filmed at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal Conference in May of 2010. Dennis Brooke is the Vice President of our writer's association.

Watch the interview here to hear Nick’s thoughts on “the forty percent” of effort that an author needs to dedicate beyond the writing and the concept of a five year plan to help you set realistic expections.

Like it, or not, fellow writers - we can't ONLY be writers. If we really want to get our words out there with a publisher, there are things we need to do other than just write a good story.






Nick Harrison is an editor with a Harvest House publishing and continues to write books in his spare time. Visit his website at www.nickharrisonbooks.com


Dennis Brooke writes about Almost True Stories of Life at www.dennisbrooke.wordpress.com. He’s been a member of NCWA for three years and currently serves as Vice-President and Webmaster.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: Worst Self-Help Titles

This bit of inspired lunacy is from the ever-entertaining Slushpile Hell blog. These titles were submitted via Twitter for a contest (and the peasants rejoiced).

@alexandradonald: He’s Just Way Too into You: Learning to Love Your Stalker

@thxithink: The 12 Steps to Overcoming Your Fear of Stairs

@Billjonesjr: Mensa for Dummies

@cathy_bryan: How to Text and Drive Faster: The Last Self Help Book You’ll Ever Need

@NovelistCindy: Crushing Dreams and Cashing In: How to Become a Literary Agent

@WritingAgain: The Fine Art of Overreacting: How to Make Your Coworkers Fear and Shun You

@KatieAlender: The Arrr of War: The Pirate’s Guide to Victory in Battle, Business, and Life

@Figmentfiction: No, No. YOU’RE Right. You’re ALWAYS Right: How to Be More Passive Aggressive

@DeadlyAccurate: Breaking His Spirit: The Nagging Wife’s Guide To The Perfect Husband

@carpediem1991: Eat, Pray, Love, Eat, Pray, Love, Eat, Pray, Love: How to Overcome an OCD.

And the winner:
@TheresaMarieP: A Hypochondriac’s Guide to the REAL Diseases You Need to Worry about and Their Symptoms

These are just some of the entries. Do yourself a favor and catch the entire list at Slushpile Hell.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review of Naming the World edited by Bret Anthony Johnston

Because I’m not normally a fan of writing prompts or exercises, I didn’t expect to glean much from this heavyweight anthology (which boasts such famous and respected contributors as Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Allison, and Steve Almond) subtitled “and other Exercises for the Creative Writer.” But with its pages stacked with upwards of 80 knowledgeable and experienced writers, it could hardly escape offering more than its fair share of gems.


Divided into categories for easy accessibility and digestibility, the essays span such subjects as “Getting Started,” “Character,” “Point of View and Tone,” “Plot and Narrative,” “Dialogue and Voice,” “Descriptive Language and Setting,” and “Revision.” The offerings span the gamut from mundane and expected to unique and inspiring. In some ways, the form of the essay is more enlightening than if each author had offered us a complete book on the craft. By forcing each author to shrink his single most important thought on the writing life into a few pages, we’re given a package of tips distilled from multiple lifetimes of study and practice.


Granted, not everything here is worth the price of admission (at times, in the first third of the book, I found myself wishing I’d never purchased it), but I found enough good stuff to make the entirety more than worth the read. It’s found a home on my bookshelf despite some of its weaknesses.
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Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing Tips: Writing Out Loud

I discovered the value of reading my creative fiction out loud only last year, when I gave an impromptu reading of some space monkey flash fiction (don’t ask) at a Relief Magazine event hosting author Michael Snyder. Listening to Mike read his stuff for 30 minutes was fun. Reading my own for three was terrifying and instructive. What I thought was a bullet-proof, zippy little piece, sounded leaden and clunky as I read it out loud. However, the punchline, which I thought was merely ok when I wrote it, provoked a big laugh. I quickly learned what didn’t work and what worked very well in that 500 word flash piece.

Science Fiction author Juliette Wade recently wrote about reading your work out loud as a quick, effective editing trick, a tool to improve your writing.
The first thing that reading aloud can do is give you some distance on what you've written. Sometimes you spend so much time going over and over the words on the screen that you know them by heart, and you stop being able to see problems that might be there. Reading aloud is one way to push that text away, and put it into a context where you can be more aware of what's actually there, rather than what you think/know is there from the million times you've run your eyes over it. Printing out the story and looking at it that way can have a similar effect, but does require more paper and ink!

The second thing that reading aloud can do for you is give you a sense of the rhythmic feel of your prose. As you go through, awkward spots will give you pause, or even cause your tongue to stumble. When this happens, it's a good idea to change what you've written - because if it makes you pause or stumble, chances are your readers will have the same problem.

Juliette goes on to write about how reading can be useful when designing character voices. I recommend reading the rest of her article about that process.

Writing, for me, is primarily an internal endeavor. I read inside my head, I think inside my head, and I write inside my head, a closed internal loop. I am most content when I escape to someplace where I can sit in front of a computer or laptop, put on some headphones, and be alone with the privacy and complexity of my half-formed thoughts. It is there that I begin to make sense of things and exert my will to wrest invention and beauty out of chaos.

But this very aspect of writing is both constructive and false because, by its very definition, it is two dimensional. Those insights that seemed so scintillating when crafted in my head crash to the ground with a dull thud when spoken out loud.

How often have you wrestled with a writing problem inside your head, spoken the problem out loud to a friend, and discovered the answer while speaking the question? It happens to me all the time. This is why I now tend to be pretty quick about bouncing ideas off people verbally whenever I can. The quick spoken sounding board works very well for me, both in my day job as a technical writer and in my creative writing after-hours.

Don’t wait for an audience. Make reading your work out loud a part of your writing toolkit for a quick, effective metric on your work-in-progress.
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: When You Rush the Editing Process (Advice from Obi-Wan)

A little lesson from Obi-Wan Kenobi in the pitfalls of rushing things...


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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing Tips: Introducing the Jumper Colon


I confess: I’ve discovered the coolest new grammatical device, which is both pragmatic and bleeding-edge radical. In a scintillating article called Colonoscopy: It’s Time to Check Your Colons, writer / teacher Conor J. Dillon observes a curious new grammatical creation which has cropped up in modern writing. He starts by describing four precursor colons; the lister, the talker, the national extension, and the juxtaposer.

He then builds on that list by giving us this bonus fifth colon. It’s kind of brilliant.

For grammarians, it’s a dependent clause + colon + just about anything, incorporating any and all elements of the other four colons, yet differing crucially in that its pre-colon segment is always a dependent clause.

For everyone else: its usefulness lies in that it lifts you up and into a sentence you never thought you’d be reading by giving you a compact little nugget of information prior to the colon and leaving you on the hook for whatever comes thereafter, often rambling on until the reader has exhausted his/her theoretical lung capacity and can continue to read no longer.

See how fast that goes? The jumper colon is a paragraphical Red Bull, a rocket-launch of a punctuator, the Usain Bolt of literature. It’s punchy as hell. To believers of short first sentences–Hemingway?–it couldn’t get any better. To believers of long-winded sentences that leave you gasping and slightly confused–Faulkner?–it also couldn’t get any better. By itself this colon is neither a period nor a non-period… or rather it is a period and it is also a non-period. You choose.

The jumper colon is a pragmatic, elegant enabler for the punchy sort of speech favored by modern writers, and I adored it the moment I first laid eyes on one. In fact, Dillon makes the intriguing argument that modern compression typing (phone text messages and fitting Twitter ideas into 140 characters) has ushered in acceptance of the jumper colon. “To that end, rules be damned, a new punctuator has been born.”

One caveat — I’m thinking the jumper colon is ideally suited to articles and blog posts and (yes, Tweets and texts). But can we use it for story dialogue? For example, my friend, author L.S. King, cautions not to use semi-colons in dialogue.
People don't talk in semicolons. Don't use them in dialogue. If the English professor in you is itching to put a semicolon inside those quotes, substitute em dashes or just separate the sentences with a period. Period.
Fair enough. For this post, I asked Lee about colons in dialogue. She said colons are fine, although she usually uses em-dashes instead. I do, too, now that I think about it. But how about this? "Steve, your turn. Best meal ever: Go!" That looks and sounds like a genuine conversation to me, and I like it better than the variant with the em-dash.

In closing, Conor Dillion’s article is brilliant and funny and full of cool real-world examples. If you haven’t already, you should run to the link above and bask in the examples he provides.
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Targeting Niche Markets

When we think about marketing our work, we usually think about selling it to the largest markets possible. But if we’re discounting smaller, more specific outlets, we’re probably missing out on a large number of sales. Depending on the subject of your book and its primary target audience, you may be able to find anywhere from a handful of niche markets to dozens. And just where do you find these niches?


Here are a few examples:


  • Local businesses. Local loves local. People in your area (particularly if you’re from a smaller town) will be more likely to have an interest in your work just because you’re from the same place they are. Think beyond bookstores and ask around at grocery stores, coffee shops, and even hospital gift shops to see if they’re willing to carry your books. In more cases than not, they probably will be.

  • Related clubs and organizations. If you wrote a mystery about a chef who was murdered, shop your book to the thousands of people who enjoy whipping up masterpieces in the kitchen. My medieval novel Behold the Dawn finds readers among the members of the many Renaissance and medieval reenactment groups. Google your subject with the words “associations,” “clubs,” and “groups” on the end.

  • Special interest magazines. Magazines that target niches can be a prime source for advertising. If your marketing budget won’t support an ad campaign, consider pitching articles in which you can mention your book, if not in the article body, then at least in the byline.

  • Educational outlets. Is your book appropriate for children? Even if you didn’t intend your story for a young audience, you may be able to market it to schools or homeschool groups if it has an educational slant. Both of my historical novels are popular with homeschoolers. You may want to offer further material on your website, including curriculum questions for teachers who want to use your book in class.

  • Book clubs. Target generic book clubs, but don’t forget about those that are more specific to your subject. Did you write a YA book for girls? You might be able to get your book featured on the Mother Daughter Book Club. Don’t forget to add extra incentives for book clubs by offering discussion questions, the option of a group chat on Skype, and maybe even a discount on your books.

Targeting niche markets can be time intensive, but it’s a rewarding process that can often create an army of devoted book fans.
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