Monthly Archives: January 2013

Cover Reveal: IXEOS

Drumroll please….! Here is the cover for my upcoming YA sci-fi fantasy IXEOS. What do you think??

IXEOS 800 Cover reveal and Promotional

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Indies Forward: The Cell War Notebooks

This morning I’m doing something a little different. A whole bunch of bloggers around the world are participating in Indies Forward today, blogging in support of Julie Forward DeMay who chronicled the last seven months of her battle with cervical cancer on a blog, later made into a book by her mom. All the proceeds from The Cell War Notebooks go to her 9 year old daughter.

From the blurb:

What would you do when faced with a battle for your life? Author, photographer and creative spirit Julie Forward DeMay took on her fight with cervical cancer like she was playing for the new high score in her favorite video game, Asteroids. Inspiring, witty, beautiful and brutally honest, The Cell War Notebooks is a compilation of the blog Julie kept during the last seven months of her life. It’s a powerful read for anyone, whether your life has been touched by cancer or not.

Cell War Notebook cover

Here are the links:

Cancer has touched most of us at least once. My mom had breast cancer at 35 and had a double radical mastectomy and a year of chemo. Today is her 71st birthday. Many are not so fortunate. I hope you’ll read the book and follow Julie’s amazing battle and be inspired by her incredible spirit. Then hug your loved ones close.

If you are a blogger who’d like to participate in this blog-a-thon today, here’s the link for more information: http://selfpublishingteam.com/indiesforward.

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The Birth of a Novel

Every time I publish a novel, I get a call from my dad about a month later. He says the same thing in every call: WHERE did you learn all this stuff? Followed by: Where in the world did you get that idea?

I reblogged this guest post about my backwards way of coming up with my ideas, starting with location and ending with characters. I’ve guest posted about my process of research. and I did one about sending it off to my production team. But I’ve never really written about the whole process all in one place.

Right now I have 5 novels that I’m planning to write, produce and release in 2013. One is in production now, having been written in 2012. The second is currently an almost-finished first draft. The third is pretty well fleshed out. The other two… Well, I know they’ll be Quinn adventures, and that’s about it. I think one will be in/around Egypt. I’ve been to Egypt and obviously it’s got enough history to make an interesting story.

So that’s the first step: location. Once I get to the point of researching that one, I’ll start with Egypt and begin searching for interesting trivia. I’ll make tons of notes, most of which I won’t use. I’ll research Alexander and Napoleon and their forays into the country. I’ll research the Kingdoms, the Ptolemies, and the rulers. Something I come across will tickle my imagination and I’ll follow that thread to other countries and interesting trivia. When I’ve got enough locations to make a good hunt I’ll figure out a way to connect those locations, which will give me a plot. I’ve already got my character: Rei and Gideon Quinn and their pal Mac McDonald, plus their boss Luis Xavier (aka the money man), so that’s one less thing to figure out.

By the time I’m ready to start writing I’ll have dozens of pages of scribbled notes (if you saw my handwriting you’d know that ‘scribbled’ is an accurate description). I’ll have a timeline and a list of my locations, plus some information about each location. I’ll know the beginning, the main plot, and the end. That’s about it. Then I’ll start a new file on Scrivener and start typing.

My daily goal is a minimum of 3,000 words a day. For me, that’s about 2-3 hours, even with a good amount of research while I’m writing, although there are days where it seems harder and takes longer. If all goes well, I’ll have the first rough draft in a month, typically about 90,000 words. I’ll do a quick edit for major things like typos, secondary characters whose names change for no apparent reason, and to add in some description, and then send the book to my beta readers. I try to enlist a dozen beta readers, because my experience has been that only about half will actually be able to do it. (This isn’t intentional — they all want to. But life happens, and it’s a lot to take on as a favor!)

I usually give my beta readers several weeks to a month to get back to me. In the meantime, I also start an edit, this time on paper. I find that I tend to skim when I read on a computer screen, so I print it out and use a red pen (not purple – I’m not worried about my self-esteem!). When the beta readers’ comments come back, I incorporate those that resonate with me, or anything that’s mentioned by more than one person, and then do the “big edit.”

The “big edit” is the one that takes the longest. This one merges my own on-paper edits with the beta readers’ ideas, plus involves a very detailed reading of the work on the computer. I take it one page at a time, putting in my edits and then rereading that section and making more changes. This is where word selection, overused words (my most overused word is ‘just’), and adding description comes in heavily. Obviously, this edit takes the longest. I pay attention to Scrivener’s grammar and spelling checks, too.

After this, I move the document from Scrivener to Word and add the chapter breaks. I move it to my pc and employ Grammarly, fixing the spelling problems Scrivener’s tool didn’t catch (an amazing number), checking for comma usage, and doing a Find for overused words (again). I’ll catch things I didn’t catch up to this point, even though I’m trying to be very thorough. Once this is done, I move it back to Word on my Mac and use yet another spelling and grammar checking tool. Believe it or not, Word will catch things that neither Grammarly nor Scrivener caught! In IXEOS, there were three instances where I had “the” twice in a row. Neither of the other programs caught that!

One more quick read-through and I’m done. At this point, I communicate all the pertinent information to my production team at Streetlight Graphics. I’ve written here, here and here what questions I answer for each book. The hardest of these is the blurb, although I’ve gotten a lot better at those the more of them I’ve done. I usually do a lot of back and forth emailing with my daughter and my husband with these until we’ve gotten it fine-tuned. My daughter is especially helpful here because she’s my best beta reader, and so she’s read the books. My husband used to be in advertising, so his input is good, but he hasn’t read the books, so he is limited on what he can suggest. (He did read – and like – Solomon’s Throne, to be fair!)

After Streetlight Graphics has my information, my role changes to advisor and critic. We currently have the cover of IXEOS in draft form. It needs some tweaking, though, so it’s back on Glendon’s desk. Once I get a cover I like, though, I stick with that brand within that genre, so it gets easier. (You can see from this list that the 2 Quinn books have very similar covers, but different from the romance. The upcoming YA sci-fi fantasy is totally different from these. As a multi-genre author, it’s important that each have its own brand so that readers can readily identify those in the genre that they prefer — I probably won’t get a huge amount of crossover.)

After the cover I’ll be reviewing the formatting. I produce my novels in both print and ebook formats, so we’ll check them out and make sure the font and the flourishes that separate scenes are good, the gutters are right, the chapter breaks are correct, etc. The same goes for ebooks. When all those are correct, I get my baby back and it’s time to upload. CreateSpace and Amazon are super easy, and Amazon’s KDP program gets the ebooks up and running usually within 12 hours. CreateSpace will have a draft copy ready for approval in about the same amount of time. Apple is a real pain and takes weeks for approval. Kobo and Barnes & Noble are easy. Smashwords is somewhere in between. For IXEOS, since it’s book 1 in a trilogy, I may only put it on Amazon and enroll it in KDP Select, which will mean a very easy upload process indeed.

Once it’s up, it’s time to promote. Actually, the promotion starts before this point, with “coming soon” posts on my personal Facebook page, my Facebook author page, Twitter, and this blog. As I’ve had success with the other books, I’ve got more money to put in outside advertising and will be having 2 launch blog tours in March. I don’t like to use Twitter and Facebook as scrolling bulletin boards, but I do put information on new books and promotions there regularly (and hopefully inoffensively!).

Even after the initial launch phase is done, the books need constant TLC in the form of paid and free advertising, short and sweet updates on Facebook, Twitter and the blog, blog tours and guest blogging, and word of mouth. The beauty of being an indie publisher is that I don’t have a short window to make money before my book is pulled like a traditionally published author. My books will be around as long as the internet and ebook stores are, so I don’t have to go nuts, I just need to keep exposure going. I’m less panicked about it all now because I’ve figured out that I do better taking a Saturday and planning my marketing for about a 6 week period all at once. Then I don’t have to worry about it. I have a Mac calendar set up just for marketing so I can quickly refer to it.

And that’s about it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there! The beauty of indie publishing is that you can revise and republish very easily, and I’ve done that for 2 of the books. But otherwise, it’s just doing your best to see that they succeed once they’ve left the nest, and believing in yourself and your product. After all, this is a business, and you have to believe in what you’re selling. If you don’t, no one else will!

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A reader who writes

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I have been a voracious reader all my life. That is, until I started writing. I used to read a book in a day or two. I read several books a week, well over a hundred a year. I don’t know the exact number, but I’d be surprised if I read thirty last year. Well, if you count audiobooks then yes, but otherwise, probably not. (I listen to audiobooks almost exclusively when I’m driving.)

What happened? I became a writer. It’s not that I don’t still LOVE to read. I do! I reread The Lord of the Rings  last year (I’m going to count that as 3 books for my tally, okay?) and still love it as much as the first time I read it, decades ago. I’ve had fun reading Rick Riordan’s last few novels, which are silly and fun and a good mental break. I’ve read a few great indie novels (and a few not so great ones). But that’s about it.

Why? I think there are several reasons, although none are crystal clear in my overworked brain. For one thing, I can’t read in the genre in which I’m writing at the moment. Since my favorite novels to read these last few years have been action adventure/thriller types, and since I’ve written two of those and have two more in the works, that’s removed a lot of potentials from my to-be-read list . (My upcoming YA trilogy has not a little of this genre in it, too.)

I don’t think I’m worried about inadvertently stealing plot lines or characters from these books. Because I’m a project person and write the first drafts fast, my mind is consumed with my stories. It doesn’t have room for more adventure!

Secondly, I’ve been very busy writing and editing. I used to read throughout the day, at lunch, before bed… Now I might take a long enough lunch to read but that’s unusual. I’m working all day, from 9:00 to about 6:00, after which I make dinner. I usually watch some recorded police procedural type shows with the family afterwards to unwind (Castle, NCIS, The Mentalist, Bones) and then go to bed. I do read almost every night before I go to sleep, but that’s not usually more than a half hour.

Finally, and I’m not sure if this is me or the state of the industry right now, I’m having a hard time finding things to read. (The caveat being that I’m not reading in the genres I’m writing, which are, of course, my favorite genres… A vicious cycle!)  As I said, I’ve found some great indie books. I loved Blood and Water by Stuart Edmond, a gritty police procedural set in London. The Crimson League by Victoria Grefer was unlike anything I’d read before, a well written fantasy involving magicians, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (and will get to the second book, The Magic Council, eventually!).

I’ve read some books by some of my favorite authors and either didn’t finish them or found them strangely average. Among those are Bloodline from James Rollins, Cross Bones from Kathy Reichs, and anything past Book 3 (maybe even Book 2) in the Game of Thrones never-ending saga.

It may just be me. I find I’m enjoying movies more than books these days, although good ones of those are also few and far between. Maybe my brain is too tired imagining the worlds I’m building that it’s not doing a good job imagining the worlds of other people. I have read some good books, and have some old stand-bys that I turn to when I have nothing else to read, most notably the books of Dick Francis, Martha Grimes (the Richard Jury books until the last couple, which get kind of maudlin),  James Rollins, Rick Riordan, and Janet Evanovich.  Sometimes it’s better to reread something you know will be good or make you laugh than to get part way through something and realize you just don’t care…

I miss reading. I’m leaving for an almost 3-week trip soon and I’m taking my Kindle. I’d like to say I’ll read a lot, and that may be. I usually do read a good deal when I go to Uganda, as I escape the busy household (always at least 20 people in residence) and read by the light of my headlamp in my room. But a friend has asked me to beta read her memoir, and I’ll be editing an upcoming non-fiction book that’s next for publication, not to mention that I’m working every day but two while I’m there and am going to be exhausted.

I don’t want reading to be one of those “one day” things. I’ve put on Goodreads that I’m going to read 30 books this year. While that’s way down from my pre-writing days, that’s a good number for me in my current circumstances. What about you? What are you reading? Are you a book devourer like I used to be, or more of a connoisseur?  Please pass on your favorite books – I’m obviously in need of some new material!

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When a book leaves the nest

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I finished IXEOS this week and sent everything off to my great production team at Streetlight Graphics.  As an indie author I’m still in charge of the cover and the final formatting and all the details, but since I’m not able to do those things myself, there’s a bittersweet moment when you release it and hope for the best.

Writing fiction is a strange profession. Even more than actors, we make stuff up for a living. We create people out of whole cloth, name them, nurture them, give them a home, a life, crazy foibles and wonderful qualities. We make this one a villain and that one a hero. How do we choose which is which? Who knows.

A lot of writers do elaborate studies of their characters before they write them. There are many forms you can download from the internet, like this one, to help you.

I don’t do that. Maybe because developing my characters is the last thing I do when working on a story (backwards, I know), when I start a novel I usually only know the following about my main characters:

  • First and last name and their nicknames if applicable
  • Physical appearance
  • Home town
  • Where they live now
  • Their job (which assumes certain educational dynamics)
  • Marital status

That’s it! I have really big Stickie notes (they’re about 6”x8”) that I write this information on, and I stick it to my wall so I don’t forget who’s who.  If a secondary character comes along who become important, they get a Stickie note, too. Once the story is underway, I almost never look at these bright orange or green rectangles adorning my wall.

Regardless of how you birth your people, you’re still very invested in them by the time you’ve written a novel. You don’t want to kill them off (although sometimes you have to); you don’t want them to turn out to be bad, when you thought they were good. You don’t even want to say goodbye to them when you type THE END, which is why so many of us write series using those same characters.

But even if they’re coming back in the next book (and in the case of IXEOS, they are), you still have to let them fly. You have to do your editing and make your notes and communicate your ideas to your production team, and then you have to hand that baby over to someone else to take care of for a while. (If you’re a parent, it’s not unlike the first time you got a babysitter.)

Which is what I did two days ago. I’m not sure what happened that day. When I woke up I had 6 more chapters to edit in my “big edit,” which is very detailed, and still needed to run it through my grammar programs. That should have been 2 pretty full days of work. But somehow, at 6:00 that evening, I was done! I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure I was ready, to be honest. But I was done, and I got most of the information needed to produce the book compiled and sent off. By the end of that night the only thing left was the blurb.  I sent that yesterday.

So now it’s temporarily out of my hands. I have a pretty good idea of how I want the cover to look, but I’m open to other ideas, too, so I may end up with several very different mock-ups to choose from. Since this is YA, a new genre for me, the covers will all be very different from anything I’ve published before. That’s exciting but also a little scary – I know what I like in an action adventure cover. I don’t know what I like in a Young Adult! I guess we’ll find out…

I leave for Uganda three weeks from tomorrow. I’ll be out of the country without power and internet for two and half weeks. When I leave, I’ll either have a new baby just launched into cyber-space, or we’ll miss the deadline and I won’t get it out in the world until early March. But once it’s out there… Well, while I can edit and modify once it’s published, for the most part it’s got to stand on its own.

Pushing the “publish” button on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Kobo and Smashwords is a lot like sending your child off to college… Except the books don’t call for money.

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