Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Perils of Pay To Publish: A Cautionary Tale for New Authors

I thought the whole pay-to-publish route was so talked about that authors didn't fall for that anymore. With the internet and all the information out there, it would seem like there would be plenty of information available for those new to the publishing game. Alas, this is not true.

Over the past six months, I've met not one, but four different authors who paid to have their book published. And I'm not talking about paying an editor, a cover artist, and a formatting person. I'm talking shelling out thousands of dollars to a company so they can hold their book in their hands.

With self-publishing such an easy and enticing option these days, and the wealth of information out there on how to do everything from formatting to marketing on your own, I am mystified as to why anyone would think they need to take out a loan to publish a book.

So while it would seem to me that this topic has been flogged to death, I'm going to cover it again. If you approach a publisher and see any of these: say no / look for other options / run the other way:

1. If the publisher charges a reading fee
2. If the publisher doesn't ask to see a query letter/ synopsis/ first chapter but responses to your inquiry regarding publishing with an offer to publish and pricing options.
3. If there are up front fees of any kind.
4. To make this clear, if you are asked to pay ANYTHING to get your book published.

The only time there should be a cost to you is to purchase books at a significant discount from your publisher for you to sell yourself - such as for signings, copies to gift to family and friends, or author events where your publisher will not be present.

Perhaps having to formulate a query letter and the dreaded synopsis, of having to wait for months, and the fear of rejection letters makes the idea of just forking out a couple thousand to skip all the headaches seem worthwhile. It's not.


Your cover is now in the hands of a company who isn't invested in your book. They don't care what it looks like. You better read that contract with a magnifying glass and know what rights you're handing over. They're just churning out what you're paying to have them publish and who knows what effort they're putting into editing and proper formatting.

Your pay-to-publisher will ship you boxes of books that you've paid for. You will have to sell them in order to recover your cost to publish. Sure, your book may be listed on Amazon and maybe even a few other sales avenues, but all those books in your basement/garage? That's your investment. The marketing is on your shoulders.

If you're a well-known business person, teacher, or public speaker, perhaps you can move all those books fairly quickly with a few big engagements. But for most people, you'll sell a few to family and friends and then spend years trying to sell the rest. That's years you're peddling books and selling one or handful at a signing. Do you have years to recover your thousands of dollars?

And we haven't even touched on the costs that many authors have, like all your marketing and publicity: Bookmarks, websites, table fees at author events, travel, business cards, review copies, give away copies, and any other promotional goodies you might need. If you've paid thousands up front, all these costs now also come out of your pocket and eat into any progress you're making toward recouping your costs.

The worst of the four experiences I've encountered was an author who thought she was dealing with a reputable company because it was a division of a name she knew. They charged her $3,500 to publish her book. A book she didn't even have finished. Her first book, mind you. She wasn't a known name in the market by any means. And when she finally had the draft done some nine months later, she was informed that it needed significant editing, and that would be an additional $3,500.  Unwilling to pay that much a second time, she found a college student to edit for her for $600. And now $4,100 later, she has her book to hold.

All four of these authors are out thousands. Yes, they have books to sell, but will they ever make their money back, let alone make a profit? It's very unlikely.

Do NOT let this happen to you.

Do your research on how publishing works. There are options. All of them involve having written your book, utilizing beta readers and critique groups, and learning how to do some editing and general formatting on your own. If you haven't done those things, you're not ready to publish.

Option 1: Aim high and query an agent to help with the publishing process and better your chances of a deal with a big press.
Option 2: Query publishers taking unsolicited submissions
Option 3: Query small presses who may take more chances with first-time authors
Option 4: Self-publish.

The only one of these options has costs involved and that's self-publishing. While there is a host of information out there on how to do all the steps yourself, you're probably not good at all the steps. You may wish to pay someone to design a cover. Hiring an editor is a good choice and often important step. Formatting your book for print or as an e-book can be confusing, there are people who can do that for you. In this option, there are companies who will offer one or all of these services and you can select which to pay for. It should not cost you thousands of dollars. Do your research. Learn how to do as much as you can or feel comfortable with yourself. Pay what you can afford for an editor that works for your book.

If you're considering publication, talk to other writers. Join a local writing/author group.  Join a group online. Build connections. Find out what others are doing and how they're going about it. Talking with other authors is a great way to spot red flags with publishers and possible offers as well as staying aware of new opportunities and markets you may not have considered.

Keep in mind, if you hit upon a contract with a legitimate publisher, they will pay you. You do NOT pay them.

I can't say this enough: Research. Learn. Don't pay thousands.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July ISWG: Marketing You and Your Book

Time to take a short break from marketing to do this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group post. 

IWSG July Question: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

Just one lesson? Oh my. Well, I'm going to dig into this particular month's lesson because that's the one freshest in my head. 

You can pour yourself into writing the best book you can write, edit your heart out, subject your carefully chosen words to the eyes and opinions of others, spend a good deal of time formatting your work and picking the perfect cover, agonize over what you want to say on the back cover and swallow your heart as you click that publish button, but that's not the end of the journey. It's merely the end of the writing part. 

Now you're in marketing land. It's a strange and formidable place for dwellers of writing caves. A land in which we must seek out others for reviews and interviews, write guest blog posts, join facebook groups to promote our newly published book, go to events and talk to readers. All of which has little to do with that thing we set out to do, that thing we're comfortable doing, sitting in our happy place, creating worlds and playing with the lives our characters. 

Marketing means promoting yourself and your book. It's having to be social without a keyboard. In person. Where stupid things can flow out of your month unedited. Sitting on panels, doing readings, and offering advice to others like we know what we're doing.

It can cost money and there's no guarantee you're going to get a good return on it: Bookmarks, business cards, banners, book giveaways, websites, domain names, nifty little give away items to entice people to approach you, travel costs to events, table fees, paying to enter contests or get reviews from notable sources.

Time seems to vanish just as quickly as it does when you're lost in an awesome plot twist while you hunt down current and active Facebook pages and groups, blogs, and websites on which to promote your book. While you write promotional blog posts and answer interview questions. Hours slip by as you research events, contemplate travel plans, and connect with other authors about sharing expenses or their experiences with particular events. Entire days are swallowed at events where you may meet some wonderful readers and sell a handful or two of books sit there with a smile pasted on your face, wishing someone would make eye contact with you or your books and you sell nothing. 

Marketing is that awkward place where you try to figure out ways to advertise your event appearances and book promotions without spamming your friends and groups you belong to every other day. It's asking without trying to sound like begging everyone you know who has read your book to write a review. It's endlessly trying to explain how reviews work with the magical Amazon promotion machine and how they can be as simple as "I really liked this book." and still be helpful.  

And somewhere in all this, you have to find a place where you can make peace with the book you've released out into the world for better or worse and start settling into writing the next one.

And so it begins again. 

Do you balance marketing with writing or only have time for one or the other? How long do you devote yourself to promotion before giving your attention to the next book?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My low cost garden: How I take a break from writing

While I love my flower garden, I like to grow vegetables too. However, I haven't been able to do that for the past couple years. I've missed the daily excuse to get outside and get more dirt under my oh-so-lady-like nails.

The flower section of my old garden, complete with a pear tree, but minus a partridge.
For years at our previous house, we had a large garden, fenced in, with strawberries and raspberries, grapevines and plenty of room for anything I had the urge to grow. Over the years the kids helped plant seeds. We chased untold numbers of rabbits out of the fencing. Squirrels and raccoons leaped down from trees to rip up my corn and decorate the branches above with the stalks after they were done with their stolen feasts. We composted for years, slowly turning the sandy dirt into a nice dark and fertile soil.

And then came building a house. No time to garden, no sir. We barely had time to eat or sleep, for goodness sake. Ignored, our beautiful garden was quickly overtaken by weeds and eagerly expanding raspberries. Then we moved. I'm sure you know how much fun that is and how long it takes to settle in. Egads!

To supplement our fresh veggie intake during all this, I joined a local farm CSA program. If you have one nearby and don't have the time, space or inclination to have a garden of your own, I highly recommend it. We learned to like all sorts of things that I wouldn't have otherwise considered trying from the grocery store or planting myself.

Now, finally, in our third summer in the new house, I had time to make a garden. It's not that we don't have space. There's plenty of that, but where to put it? The majority of our land is low, meaning it gets wet fast and floods in heavy rain. It's also mostly shaded. The back of the house is much higher and in full sun, but filled with dune grass and beach sand, because nothing says contrast like our yard.

So much dune grass...
The full sun won. I rototilled the dune grass. Three passes to get it good and chopped up.Then I covered it with landscaping fabric and lined the edges with rocks. You'd be surprised how fast dune grass grows. I ran out of time for the weekend at that point. So it sat that there for a few days until free time and weather allowed me to get back out there. You'd think that all of my efforts would deter the grass a little, wouldn't you? Ha! It was already starting to sprout up through the fabric!

So I pulled all the fabric back and lined the area with layers of newspaper. With the fabric back in place overtop and the addition of four inches of cedar mulch. I thought I was in good shape.

What's in the pot? Raspberries. I learned my lesson with those. Contain them!

Time to build boxes. We had a lot of random lumber left over from building the house and deck. I didn't want to spend anything if I didn't have to, so while my boxes aren't pretty, other that one box of screws (because I ran out of my leftovers), they didn't cost a thing.

We're also working on a landscaping project in the front of the house and happened to have a delivery of dirt come in for that. I took what I needed to fill my boxes with good dark composted soil and lined those with newspaper too for and extra deterrent.

The one thing I did splurge on was a pre-packaged drip irrigation system from Lowes. I did put this garden out in the full sun right up next to the house for goodness sake. The least I could do was to give it a fighting chance. So a $60 drip irrigation system went in. It was super easy to do and maybe took an hour so two.

If you're wondering what the deal is with the random corner blocks, I left most of them how I found them so that I could add fencing or drape row covers over the plants if rabbits or deer became a problem. So far, thankfully, they haven't.

Next, I ran to the tractor supply store down the street and grabbed up a bunch of seeds while they were on sale and picked up a few tomato plants while I was at it. Though the last frost was still looming, I just wanted this project done so I planted half a packet of everything. Good to have that other half to fall back on if something fails.

You can tell how often the kids use that trampoline. The dogs like the shade it provides though.

Now, two months later, the flowers are starting to bloom ( some, because they're edible and marigolds to keep the rabbits away), and everything is looking lovely. We enjoyed our first zucchini with dinner last night and have been enjoying fresh spinach and lettuce for a couple weeks.

It takes me five minutes every other day to keep it all weed free. And dune grass free, because yeah, all my efforts did was slow that down a little. That's persistent stuff! But it gives me an excuse to get some sunshine. Those randomly long posts at the corners make good handholds when bending over, woo exercise!

Now I'm going to go clean the dirt from my fingernails yet again and think about what project I'm going to work on next.

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's release day for The Last God and more short stories are the way

I'm happy to announce that's it's finally release day for my sci-fi romance novel, The Last God. To me, it feels like this has been a long and wearing process, but in truth, the book began it's birth last November. Perhaps it just feels like a wearing process because it's been my focus for seven months. But it's been a fun and rewarding seven months too.

Abducting the angry and suicidal god of war might not be Logan’s wisest choice, but she’s the weapon that might be able to defeat the army of Matouk, who destroyed his homeworld. If he can show her how to love, they might save each other from the terrors that plague his nights and all of her days.

If you haven't picked up your copy of The Last God yet, it's now available in paperback and e-book. The e-book is currently on sale for .99 through Amazon / Nook / Kobo / Scribd / Inktera/

While I'm announcing things...

I also got word this weekend that my short dark sci-fi story, Sipper, has been accepted to Caffeinated Press's Brewed Awakenings 3 anthology.

And production work on the Grey Wolfe Press anthology that includes my humorous fantasy short, Chetric The Grand appears to be wrapping up. I'm looking forward to announcing it's release soon.

Next week I'll be taking a break from books and talking about my chickens and my garden because I need a break from book things.

Until then, I leave you with an excerpt from The Last God.

Logan watched in horror as the king left the side of the queen and erupted into a towering being of light.

And then that’s all there was, heat and light. He shielded his face with his arms. Huddling against the wall, he blinked rapidly and waited for the ringing in his ears to subside while he got his bearings.

Beside him, Colonel Rice swore. “What the hell was that?”

Logan had no answers. He could only attest to witnessing the woman he’d seen when they’d entered the massive chamber cover herself in the same golden suit of armor they’d spoken with. Then she grew taller, brighter, glorious. Though his mind reeled with what he’d seen and he was only half certain this wasn’t another one of his nightmares, he hazarded a glance to where the king and queen had been.

The two beings of light exchanged blows of massive proportions. Bombs of energy exploded against their bodies. He couldn’t fathom how either remained standing.

“I’m pretty sure the queen exploded,” he said, knowing how absurd that sounded but having no other explanation.

Everyone else in the room had gone to their knees when the king had stood. The uniformed men that they had followed back here, now had their arms outstretched and their faces plastered to the floor.

While beings of light danced in his vision and bombs exploded against his eardrums, he achieved a single glimpse of clarity. Everyone who had been near the throne was blackened. Dead. Bile rose in this throat.

A thunderous clamor claimed his attention. He tore his gaze from the bodies to see the being of white light, what had been the king, sprawled among the remains of the thrones. He dimmed and then was nothing more than a battered and bloody man. His crown lay at the bottom of the stairs.

A shimmering sheet flowed from the General to hover over him and Rice. The ground beneath them rocked and the walls shook. The ceiling above began to crumble.

The colonel didn’t move. He found he couldn’t move either. He wasn’t easily scared, but he had no idea what was going on here and safety anywhere on this planet was questionable.

Without taking his eyes off the General, he said, “We’ve overstayed. The planet is going to go with us on it.”

“Maybe.” The colonel also stared at the giant golden glowing figure.

Debris thundered down on the sheet above them. A shield of some sort.

Logan prayed their ship wasn’t being crushed where they’d left it with the rest of their team inside. Then he wondered if he should hope that they’d left. He and Rice might not make it back. The shield didn’t look able to stretch that far. In fact, it didn’t even go as far as the archway.

A giant explosion struck the General. For a moment he was blinded again. Another blast of scorching air blew past them, though it seemed the shield protected them somewhat as the heat wasn’t near as intense as the first time.

“Holy shit,” muttered Rice.

The King was gone. Only a large scorch mark on the floor where his body had been. The General lay sprawled on steps, her feet just below the thrones. Her armor missing the golden glow and blackened. Blood dripped down the steps from the seam at her neck where her head was suspended over the edge of one of the stairs. She lay on her back as if she’d been blown over, unable to catch herself.

She was still moving. Slowly, but twitching enough to indicate she wasn’t as bad off as the rest.

“We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Agreed.” Yet, Rice crept forward instead of back the way they’d come.

Following behind, they checked the bodies of the others as they went. All of them had burnt to death. Pain on his own arms registered. He glanced down to find them blistered. Rice’s face and neck was red. He guessed his was too by the tightness that hit him now that the shock had worn off. His clothes were singed.

“Good thing we weren’t any closer,” Rice said, working his way toward the armored woman.

Logan rushed up the stairs. He knelt beside the General, who seemed to have returned to her original size. She weakly pushed him away but said nothing beyond a faint moan.

“Let me help you.”

She pushed at him again. He tugged on the helmet, trying to free her head so he could better assess the damage.

The voice that came from the blackened metal face was a ghost of the powerful voice that she’d used earlier, barely a whisper. “Leave me.”

He pushed her hand aside and felt up the back of the armor, searching for a lever or latch of any sort. There was nothing there but blood. He wiped his hands on his pants. “How do you get this thing off?”

 “You don’t.” Her voice grew slightly stronger. “Now go, I can’t hold the shield much longer.”

Rice crouched down beside them. “You’re coming with us.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last God and Sahmara on Sale

To celebrate the upcoming release of The Last God, I've reduced the price of my fantasy novel Sahmara to .99. Get both e-books for .99 each for a limited time!
The Last God - Pre-order on: Amazon / Nook / Kobo/  Also now available in Paperback for $9.95
Sahmara - Amazon / Apple / Nook / Kobo / Scribd / 24 Symbols / Inktera

Abducting the angry and suicidal god of war might not be Logan’s wisest choice, but she’s the weapon that might be able to defeat the army of Matouk, who destroyed his homeworld. If he can show her how to love, they might save each other from the terrors that plague his nights and all of her days.

The Last God is science fiction romance. For those of you wondering about the heat level, my romance is on the fairly tame side. While I enjoy reading hot steamy erotic scenes now and then, I don't write them. My romance is more of the fade to black variety.

Now then... About Logan.

When the angelic face of Matouk appeared on the vids of Hijn, the populace was enraptured by his voice and appearance. Some began to worship him as though he were a god.

Then he started making demands for sacrifices. Threats. His forces filled the skies.

People revolted. Matouk's fury rained down upon them, destroying the colonies that had become cities on Hijn, enslaving the survivors, and taking all he wanted for his own.

Logan Klevo lived through this, but nightmares and horrific flashbacks make him wonder if he can truly call it surviving. Though he's rescued by the crew of the Maxim, Logan feels out of place, a soldier on a ship full of techs. It isn't until he accompanies a few of the crew on a mission to warn the people of Kaldara of their impending demise, that he feels a few moments of peace.

And those brief moments are courtesy of a dying god in his arms. He's not about to let her go.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Coming June 19: The Last God

Now that I can finally breathe. Whew! I just wrapped up the formatting for The Last God, I can take some time to chat.

I totally missed my IWSG post this month. My theme was lacking time. Let's just call that a meta mini IWSG post.

Now then, about this book that's been eating all my time...

The Last God is about a woman who has been the god of war for so long that she's seen and done it all and worn the t-shirt until it turned to dust. The Unlata Kai have done just as much guiding of young races as they have ruling over them and driving them into the ground.

The General is just plain done.

She's been a daddy's girl all her life, doing everything to try to impress a man who has no love for anyone but himself. She's brought his wrath to countless worlds, hunted her fellow Unlata Kai into near extinction, murdered siblings for him. She's even gone so far as to damn her soul. All she's got to show for her efforts is a shiny suit of armor and beautiful city of obedient subjects on a world that's ready to implode.

Her parents have tuned out and the only man she's slightly interested in has joined her in a pact to end her kind. At least he's loyal. Too bad they'll be dead shortly.

All the General needs to do is keep her voice down, the occupants of the throne room calm, and to evacuate the innocent population off Kaldara. As long as the kind and queen remain oblivious on their thrones, the last of the Unlata Kai won't live to see tomorrow.

The universe will be a far more peaceful place.

The last thing she needs is a ship of humans on a mission to warn her parents of Kaldara's imminent demise to land just as the evacuation is underway. It doesn't help that one of them is tall, dark and distracting in ways that have the god of war thinking about taking up a new line of expertise.

The Last God is slated to release on June 19 in both print and e-book. You can pre-order now for only .99

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Editing the weekend away

In the season of graduation open houses, I'm spending my weekend doing the final edits on The Last God. It's been through readers. It's been through my eyeballs. Now it's in my ears.

And it's depressing how much the eyeballs miss.

To cope with this tiresome job, I call upon chocolate.

The best part about graduation open house season though I don't have to cook very much. Lunch has been provided for the past two days and dinner is on the menu for tomorrow. Which is good because the listening method of editing is slower than the reading one. This probably has something to do with why it picks up so many more things that my eyeballs do.

I like to make notes in ink and highlight the area where the change is. Overlooking ink is easy. The orange makes it stand out more. Red ink would also work, but it feels so negative.
Listening has helped pick up on word echos, odd phrasing, extra words, missing words, wrong words, and detail changes I missed making on the last eyeball round.

The cover is done. The blurb is done. Very soon edits will be done and then its on to formatting fun and ordering print copies.

Watch for The Last God on the 19th in e-book and print!

(Wow. My lighting is not that orange, I swear. Dim lights and phone cameras don't mix.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Twenty-Four Days by J. Murray

Today we're taking a break from talking about editing, writing and unruly characters to celebrate the launch of Jacqui Murray's newest book Twenty-Four Days.

So what is this book about?

World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi--the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.

Kirkus Review:
A blistering pace is set from the beginning: dates open each new chapter/section, generating a countdown that intensifies the title’s time limit. Murray skillfully bounces from scene to scene, handling numerous characters, from hijackers to MI6 special agent Haster. ... A steady tempo and indelible menace form a stirring nautical tale.

Where can you find this military thriller?

Available at: Kindle USKindle UKKindle Canada

About Jacqui:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cover Reveal for The Last God

If you've been skulking around here between now and November, you'd undoubtedly heard bits and pieces about my current project: The Last God. Well, it's finally almost ready to share with you.


While I wait for the last two of my esteemed critique partners to hand over their red ink filled pages so I can complete the touch ups, I figured I'd share the cover with you. I fell in love with this art after spending most of an afternoon searching for cover elements. When we created the cover for Sahmara, it was from five different pieces that we pulled together. This one hit me, the angels sang, and that was it. And so after working some graphical magic to make it just right for the story, I present the cover for The Last God.

Jane has decreed that the time of the Unlata Kai is over. Her race of god-like beings has caused enough chaos, leaving floundering hybrid races and war-ravaged planets throughout the universe. Kaldara, their home, is about to fulfill her wishes. When the planet goes, it will take her and the last of her kind with it.

The crew of the Maxim sets out to warn the leaders of Kaldara of their imminent demise, but instead, witnesses a violent battle between gods. One of them holds knowledge that could restore the Maxim to its full strength. The possibility of a defense against the ruthless army of Matouk that destroyed his homeworld fills Logan Klevo with something he’s been missing, hope.

Abducting an angry and suicidal god might not be a wise choice, but if the god of war can learn to love, they both might discover a future worth living for.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Reflections on the 2017 A to Z Challenge

I will admit right up top that I was leery about the lack of the linky list, (You'd think this was an L post, wouldn't you?) but having survived the entire month with more activity than ever, I have been won over. Yes, it was more work than signing up one time on the linky list before April. Yes, I had to remember to copy my links every day to google+, Facebook, and the A to Z site, but it worked. In fact, by the middle of the month, hectic mornings sidelined my advertising rounds a couple times, but people still came.

So what changed for me this year?
I started gathering a blog list in a word .doc to visit during the theme reveal. Anyone who had an active blog who was participating got added. It made it way easier to make my daily rounds than trying to hunt down links for everyone everyday or magically sync up with their posts on any of the three posting mediums I mentioned. Because many of us were in different time zones or advertised in the morning or evening, there was often a two to three letter range of where we all were within the challenge by using my method, but going down my list during my morning rounds helped keep me organized.

Not to say I didn't find other blogs along the way. Often, when I was posting my link, a topic would catch my attention and I'd wander off (as I'm prone to do on the evil internet), to see what they had to say. I did the same thing while leaving comments. Oh, who's that? Click. Thank you to all of the A to Z people who made the effort to push us into leaving links in our signatures! That made finding other blogs so much easier.

By the end of the month, keeping in mind that I did delete a few blogs from my list due to a total lack of return comments or they just stopped participating, I was actively reading and commenting on twenty-one blogs everyday. That does not include the few interesting attention grabbers that I also visited here an there. I cannot emphasize enough how much adding a link to your signature makes it easy to get to you.

Following that many blogs meant I gave up my writing time altogether, but April is often a (mostly) writing vacation month for me due to the challenge so that was nothing new. What was new was that instead of following a handful of blogs, I had a whole list of people I enjoyed visiting each day. While there were a few days that got away from me, I did try to comment on as many blogs on my list as possible. Saturdays were hard because I don't have a set aside writing time to use for blogging during April.

What surprised me:
• How many people commented but left no way to find their blogs. Their Google+ accounts only had comments on other people's blogs or no activity at all. They didn't leave a link. I'd love return the visit, but I don't have twenty minutes to solve the mystery of where to find you.

• How much smoother the month goes when you write your posts ahead of time. It leaves much more time for commenting.

• That the lack of a linky list actually worked really well. I had far more visits this year than in previous years.

• All the fun blogs I found and interesting people I virtually met throughout the month. In previous years I connected long term with one or two blogs, but this year, with a much larger daily list, I hope to have many more long-term connections.
For me, April has become the month of networking. While I follow blogs throughout the year, I also sporadically become a writing hermit and seem to fall off the face of the networking earth. Having a month set aside to get out there and meet people is a good thing.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to comment throughout the month and to those of you who stopped by just to read. I hope to see you throughout the year. My A to Z blog list is saved for future visits as time allows.

Now that April is over, it's time to get back into writing mode!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

April IWSG

With A to Z now lurking behind us and the reflections posts waiting to be written, it's time for a short break to think about this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

I'm sitting at that awkward point of waiting for feedback. So I'm anxiously twiddling my thumbs, pretending not to be anxious to see what comments come back from the three critique partners I wrangled into going over The Last God.

I could be using this time to work on other small projects and that is my plan, but I've been plagued by headaches lately and dealing with half of a throbbing head and black spotted vision isn't exactly conducive to writing. Being outside in the fresh air helps, especially if it's a little chilly, which means I'm not at my computer. Over the past month I've managed to build garden beds, haul a bunch of dirt, rocks and mulch and make a nice little garden area. I'm sure it will be overrun by the stubborn dune grass in no time, but I'll share pictures of how nice it looks for now another day.

Today's thoughts are wondering if I should give Kindle Scout a try. It would appear that you retain print rights while they get ebook and audio. Assuming you're chosen, of course. Anyone out there have any experience or insight on this?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - The End

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Just as Z is the end of this challenge, let's talk about the end of your story. Make sure you take a good look at the end and whether it will make your readers happy. Endings, like beginnings can be tricky to write.

Depending on your story, the end could mean very different things. For the most part though, is your ending fulfilling? Have you made the time the reader has invested in this story worthwhile? Does it offer enough closure? Not every story has a happy ending, but it does need to have an impact.

Does it need an epilogue? Is everything clear enough? Are the subplots are wrapped up? Do you need to give secondary characters closure as well? How much closure do the main characters need? Is the ending dragging on because you don't want to let go of the story or ending too abruptly?

We all know how some genre's end: the mystery is solved, the couple in the romance get married. Others can be bittersweet, tragic or happily every after or at least happy enough for now. However your story ends, make sure it ends.

You're writing a series or a sequel? Great, but end the damned novel. It doesn't have to completely wrap up with no lose ends, but it does need to have a solid point of resolution for the plot at hand. Otherwise, it will end up in my donation pile after putting dent in my wall, and I certainly won't buy the next book to find out what happens after that little To be continued text, the ellipse or whatever cliffhanger sentence the book doesn't end with.

End the story in way that makes the reader feel something (other than anger about how it didn't really end) and they will be more likely to look for more of your work. This is an important place to note the reactions of your beta readers. If they were happy, others will likely be too.

I've enjoyed spending April with you. I hope to see you around throughout the rest of the year. Congratulations on surviving the month!

What are your feelings regarding books that don't really end?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - You Need Other Eyes

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

You can't do this editing thing all by yourself. Ok, you can, but please don't.

As I've said before this month, you know your story. It came from your head. Of course you know it. You know what everyone looks like, where they are, and why the doing whatever you made them do. But have you conveyed all that in a way your readers will understand?

The only way you'll know, is letting someone else read it. And I don't mean by publishing it. That's easy to do these days, but that doesn't mean you should.

Find a two or three or handful of other people you trust to tell you truth. They don't need to be brutal about it, but you do need them to be honest. This could be some friends that do a lot of reading, a friend or co-worker's parent that was an English teacher, a college student with some sort of English major, or better yet, a local writer's group or online critique group. There's no one more willing to pick apart your words than other writers.

What do you do when you do get that feedback you were looking for (through the hands over your eyes)? You read through it. Don't rush off to change anything major. Sure, fix the typos and obvious grammatical errors. Fix the things you totally agree with. Because the words "Holy crap, how did I miss that?" will very likely come from your lips at least once, if not several times.

Now, the other stuff, the things that may require you to make major changes:
  • Do they feel right for your story/voice/plot/genre?
  • Did more than one person point out the same area as a problem?
  • Do you respect that person's opinion/knowledge enough to trust that they are possibly right?

Whatever you decide, remember that the opinions of readers vary widely. The thing someone hates, might be the exact same thing another reader loves (true story, many more times than once). Give suggestions due thought (nothing beats sleeping on them a night or two for clarity) and change what feels right to you. You are the author. These are suggestions.

On the other hand, there may stuff that makes you never talk to them again/quit writing forever/want to throw things/run off and write an angry response over. Don't do any of that. Just think about it, and for the love of all that's holy, don't say anything but a polite, "Thank you for your help".
Give that stuff a few days to settle into your mind and then go through what they said again with some criteria in mind.
  • Where they just being cruel for the hell of it or, more likely, helpful but maybe phrased more boldly than you're used to?
  • Does this person read/write your genre and is what they suggest inline with that?
  • Is this person more experienced than you was perhaps frustrated that you don't know what POV is or that your dialogue punctuation was all wrong, or that you didn't bother to fix any typos?

Most people, even other writers who like to beat up your words, are doing so to be helpful. Take a step back, use what advice speaks to you and say thank you for the rest. All of this is good practice for working with a paid editor, either one you contract or from your publisher.

Do you prefer beta readers, critique groups, or friends to read for you?

Friday, April 28, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - The Story of Xander

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

The tale of Xander: Not everything that gets cut is a lost causeYes, you caught me, I'm using Xander for another year, but he's appropriate to the conversation, so bear with me.

Just because you have to cut a scene, a thing, a character, chapter, beginning, prologue, etc, doesn't mean it's gone forever. We've already covered keeping that sacred 'fall back' first draft, but really, everything you write is a learning experience. You're getting better, stretching your mind and creativity, perhaps trying something new. That new thing just might not have a place in this particular story.

So what to do with all that stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor?

Well, those ugly scenes, toss those. In re-writing them, you've already learned why they didn't work and how to fix/prevent them in future stories.

Characters? Keep them in a file. You never know when you might need to revive one and toss them back into play. That's where Xander comes in. He was cut when two characters were combined to create the same character development experience for the MC. When it came time to write Chain of Grey, the sequel to Trust, I found a spot for him, altered a bit, but he was happily back in action.

Stuff, like bits of technology, magic spells, races, entire scenes, songs, history of your world, etc, maybe they'd fit somewhere else, like a short story based in the same world, a sequel, or blog posts when you're ready to market your soon-to-be published book. Maybe they'll spark another story entirely and launch you into your next project.

Or maybe those bits are just a learning experience. No words are wasted words. Unless you're really drunk. Then literally, yes.

Do you recycle some discarded words or toss them all away?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - What my process looks like

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

After nearly a month of posts on editing, I figured I should share What my process looks like.

(If I haven't visited you lately, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just running behind. I will get there.)

Your process should be whatever works best for you. Here's how I roll.

1. Finish the first draft.
2. Read the messy draft on the screen and highlight the especially crappy parts in red. Fix the obvious typos and formatting errors because they greatly distract me when doing full reads.
3. Let the draft sit for a couple days while I work on something else or take a little time off of writing - which I'm not really, my mind is mulling over what to do about those red bits.
4. Sit down and conquer the stuff in red - those are the ugly scenes, the parts where the voice needs adjusting to match the one at the end that I likely wrote months or a year(s) later, filler scenes, missing transitions, major timeline issues, anything blatantly sucks.
5. Then I take a deep breath, get my notebook and pen and read through the second draft. Jot down everything else that jumps out at me that needs fixing, while also noting character/setting details and the timeline.
6. Fix those things I noted and make sure the details match up throughout.
7. Take a break and work on something else - usually a critique of someone else's novel or read a book or three.
8. With sort of fresh eyes, read through the whole thing again, filling out that after-the-fact outline we talked about as I go. This outline is also what I use later to make my synopsis for submissions and back cover blurbs. Yay dual purpose!
9. Take a close look at that outline and fix any pacing and plot problems that became clear. Add to the setting and character descriptions as necessary - keeping in mind any word count constraints.
10. Send it off to one or more other people to read (or my critique group) and work something else writing related to keep my mind off whatever red-ink-covered feedback they are surely compiling.
11. Take a bracing drink and start fixing all the obvious things the reader(s) pointed out and ponder the suggestions I might not readily agree with.
12. If there were a lot of major changes overall, or important scenes /character actions that were altered, I may send off the whole thing or sections to a few more sets of eyeballs for another round of please-beat-up-my-story to verify I've properly adjusted those parts.
13. Run the whole darn thing through Grammarly to catch wrong or missing punctuation, missing words, wrong words and a host of other little word issues. Don't believe everything it tells you, but it's a good tool, regardless.
14. Print out the story and have my computer read it to me, making notes of typos (OMG, they still exist), phrasing and flow problem areas, missing/wrong words, and anything else that bland pseudo-human voice reveals.
15. Fix all that, then close the damned file and swear not to look at it until it goes to print because I'm so sick of it. *
16. Have a celebratory drink and go to bed...where you dream up your next story and the process starts all over.

*laugh insanely because you know, deep inside, you'll be getting feedback from an editor who will insist you go through much of this process all over again. Oh, and they'll still find typos.

How long does this process take? That totally depends on the novel and the speed at which your critique partners/beta readers get back to you. For The Last God, having gone through this process several times now:
November - January - write the complete crappy draft.
Spend most of February and March on steps 2-4
At the end of March, I sent it off to a beta reader.
Mid April I fixed the issues they pointed out and sent it off to three trusted critique partners I know will rip into the story with gusto.
Meanwhile, I'm keeping my mind off their impending feedback by blogging A to Z. Conveniently timed, wouldn't you say? Like I planned this...

Do you use any spiffy editing programs that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Voice

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

The Voice of your story can make up for a host of downfalls. Take the time to get to know what your voice is, what makes the way your tell your story different. It might be the word choice, phrasing, sentence structures, certain themes, how your characters talk or any number of other things. Make sure whatever your doing fits the mood of the story itself while still being you.

For instance, you might favor short punchy sentences or longer, eloquent ones.  Do you use a lot of big words, slang, or easy middle-of-the-road words? You may have more detailed descriptions. Maybe you're fond of lots of subplots. There might be scant character description or you have a minimalist approach to writing overall.

If you write a series, you'll want to make sure the character's voice remains consistent in each book, even though you might write them six months or a year apart.

Take a close look at the voice of your main character(s) at the beginning of the story, the middle, and the end. Do they sound like the same person. Yes, they've probably grown and changed a little, but they are still the same general person.

This is also true for those stories you start and then they sit on your hard drive for six years before you pick them back up and finish them. Odds are you'll need to do some character voice adjustments to make the beginning and end voices match up.

Same goes for your own voice in the case of that old story newly finished. We grow as writers over time. Hopefully we're learning things along they way, tweaking our style, picking up little things from books we're reading. Thy way you told a story, your author voice, six years ago, probably isn't the same one you have now.

I've read many a story that I had issues with, but I enjoyed the voice enough to keep reading to the end. Make sure you take the time to polish yours.

Have you read a story based solely on a great voice?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A ot Z: Editing Fiction - Ugly Bits

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Maybe you're awesome, but the rest of us have first drafts with Ugly bits. You know that scene, the one that bridges two other scenes you really enjoyed writing? The one you sort of rushed through, telling yourself that you'd fix it later? Guess what...that time is now.

I often find these ugly scenes a pain in the ass to deal with. I didn't want to write them the first time and I'm really not in the mindset to rewrite them after the first draft is done. The smoothing and shaping part of editing, I don't mind at all. Sinking back into the story enough to pick up where one scene left off and making the pile of crap I filled the next scene with workable? Ugh.

Well you can't leave that wordy trash pile there, you've got to clean it up. That might mean buckling down and doing the thing I mentioned that I hate doing (such as when I/you may have half-assed your way through the entire middle of a novel or other similarly large swath of words). Or, my much preferred and suggested method, sitting back and figuring out why you hated writing that scene so much the first time around. Because, just maybe (and most likely), you were going about it the wrong way and that's why it didn't click.

  • Now that you know the whole story, is there a better way to go from scene A to scene C?
  • Can something more interesting happen?
  • What about changing things up to better showcase character development , growth or an aspect of your character you really enjoy writing about?
  • Can you switch the POV and come at it from a different perspective?
  • Do we really need scene B or would adding a paragraph at the end of A and the beginning of C to show the transition work just as well?

The trick is to not leave any of those ugly bits in, because even if your beta readers let you get away with them, readers who don't know you will likely be less tolerant. When the writer doesn't like a scene, its often easy to tell when reading.

Do you have a filler scene horror story to share?

Monday, April 24, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction: Timeline and Tags

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Double check your Timeline. We all like to think we know our story backwards and forwards. The problem is, the odds that we sat down and wrote the whole story in one day are pretty slim. If you're like me, you get interrupted by pretty much everything - the dogs, the kids, the husband, phone, unexpected visitors, work, the repair person...

Not only is it easy to forget what time of day it is in a scene that might span a couple days of writing, but somewhere between the beginning and the end, it's entirely possible that either two previously unrelated characters are doing something that doesn't line up later on when they come together or a secondary character is left stranded somewhere in time. The backstory of main characters might be off kilter with character developing scenes happening later. Did she run away at eight years old, but later on, she turns up on the street at twelve?

The easiest way to avoid this is to plot everything out and stick exactly to your plan. Not one of those people? Yeah, me either.

The rest of us may want to take some notes as we go along in our edits, jotting down ages and dates of important events or when those things are mentioned in the story and actually create a literal timeline to make sure everything corresponds.

You might think an editor will do this for you, and if they're super awesome, they might. However, your best bet, is to make sure your story is correct and possible before sending it off so you know it's right. After all, it is your story.

As a bonus, I'm also going to put in a word about dialogue tags, because they deserve editing attention too.  

• Use the simple: Said. It works. You may be tempted, but don't screw with it. This is one word it's fine to use a lot as it disappears from sight. A few deviations for flavor now and then are fine, but should be used sparingly, as should adverbs associated with them. I once read a book where one character "said quietly" almost every line of dialogue. It drove me nuts.

• Instead of those telling adverbs and constantly relying on tags, use action beats to help flesh out the setting, add visuals to a conversation, and express emotions.
Timmy slammed one of his blocks on the table. "I don't want to go to bed."
Jane scowled and her hands formed into fists. "I think you'd better apologize for that."

• Tags and beats can go before or after the dialogue, whichever works best for the flow.

• Avoid adding too many tags or beats, they can bog down a conversation. For example, if it's a longer conversation between two people, using a tag/ every third line to keep us on track of who is talking works just fine.

• Use beats and small doses of narrative to avoid talking heads. Conversations with no description can read like a monotone phone conversation.

• As you edit make sure it's clear who is talking, and try to make the dialogue sound natural for that particular character - they probably don't all phrase sentences the same or perhaps some use different words for things (think lords and peasants). It's easy for the voices in your head to all start sounding the same halfway through your novel.

What is the most distracting dialogue tag you've seen in a book?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Setting

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Fleshing out your Setting helps engage readers. No one likes a scene taking place in a white room filled with nothing. Well, unless that's really where your characters happen to be. Showing us the world they live in helps make the story feel more real. 

Some writers get this just right during the first draft. If this is you, you're a magical unicorn and the rest of us are in awe of you.

The rest of us tend of all into two camps. Those, like me, who write bare bones, and those who describe everything in detail. So, as you're reading along in edit mode, ask yourself, what exactly about this particular setting is important? Those are the details you should convey, preferably though the eyes of your character or their interactions with the setting itself.

Is there a particular smell to the room? Such as a smoke-filled bar.

What are they touching and how do they react to it? Their arms stick to the unwashed wooden bar.

What details do they spot and how are they important to that particular character? Maybe the shadows in the unlit bathroom hallway provide a handy place to stab someone.

Sounds provide yet another avenue for description. Your character may hate the throbbing techno music.

What about anything they are tasting? Let's hope no one is licking the bar, because that's utterly gross, but they may be enjoying a drink or a bowl of pretzels.

If the detail you've so carefully described isn't important to setting the scene or shows us something about the character, then we probably don't need to devote words to it. Filling the story with dense paragraphs of description can kill the pacing or cause readers to skim, thereby possibly missing the important details that were buried inside all that.

There have been a couple writers I've worked with that have basked in the history of the world they've created, sharing tourist-like details about buildings and places throughout the story. Maybe those are of great interest to some readers. Maybe not. Honestly, that's the kind of thing I skim or skip completely. Ask yourself what type of readers you are looking to attract and what readers expect from the genre you're writing. Those details might become part of that first draft archive that only you, the author, truly appreciate. Consider that those cut details might, instead, make an interesting series of blog posts when you're ready to publish.

How do you stack up on first draft setting description: too little, too much, or just right?

Friday, April 21, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction - Read It Out Loud

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.

Reading out loud is one of the best way to catch errors. This may seem awkward if you aren't a reading out loud person or don't have a private spot to go hang out and talk to yourself, but there are ways around it.

When you read in your head your eyes will often skip over errors, especially if you wrote the words. You know what you meant. You've read these words probably half a dozen (or likely a lot more) times and you know the story. You may even find yourself skimming along to get to that favorite scene. None of these are helpful in catching missing or wrong words, repeated words, awkward phrasing, and choppy or massive run on sentences.

You can catch all this and more by reading out loud! (I feel an infomercial coming on.)

Will it help catch everything? No, but it's a big step toward the polishing for submissions or self-publishing. I wait to do this step until I'm done incorporating feedback from beta/critique and have moved past tweaking. So around the last step before submissions, a paid editor and/or preparing to self publish.

I find it works best to get out of whatever program I wrote in and work from a printed copy. Cheap like me and hate wasting paper? Print it in a small font, single spaced, two sheets to page an use the back side too. No one is going to see this but you. As long as you have room to highlight errors or scribble notes in the margins, that's really all you need.

Now, you could read this printed copy yourself, making note as you go. Maybe that will work for you just fine. I've tried it. I find I still fall into the problem of knowing what I mean rather than listening to the words I'm saying.

What works wonders for me is having someone else read it, specifically my computer. It can't skip anything and all the flaws in phrasing and sentence flow are abundantly clear in that computer voice. I currently use Word with the Windows Narrator to read for me, but any program that will read for you works. I put in my earbuds and sit at my desk (one of the few times I leave my comfy chair for writing) with my printed copy and have at it.

This may seem like a long process, but it really does catch so much more than eyeballs alone. I highly recommend taking the time and effort to listen to your own book.

Have you tried this and if so, did you find it helpful?