Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ROW80: Stretching the Noodle

Sometimes, writing a novel stretches out. Sometimes it compresses. At least in feeling if not in actual practice. My first project compressed at the end. Fingers flew, and everything fell together. My current project appears to be stretching. It probably just means that I'm not as close to the end as I thought.

It's odd how sometimes the scenes that you think will be quick end up ballooning out into an entire chapter.  Or the chapter you were planning finishes off early and it's like... oh, now what?  I don't think one situation is better than the other, it's just the organic nature of writing.  I try hard to let the story take a life of its own, and am often surprised by it.  I have a structure in mind to try and keep the pacing consistent, but it's more guidelines than boundaries. 

Anyway, the first draft probably won't be done by Monday.  My goal is now to have it finished before the end of this challenge.  That gives me what, three more weeks?  It's also going to make getting it out by Christmas even more risky, but even if I don't make it, it shouldn't be too long after, which isn't a bad thing.

Here's a look at how I did last week with my goals:
  • Writing Lesson Learned: Want to see your Muse laugh?  Set a deadline.  Sometimes stories just don't cooperate with the schedule you had in mind. 
  • WIP Pages: 7.  One ahead.  I've been logging in some extra hours to try and hit my first draft goal.  Still, there is only so much story I can force out.  I fill like one of those noodle machines, dough having been poured in in the back to be forced through a teeny-tiny hole in the front.  Viola!  Fettuccine.  Pushing too hard will only over-stretch my noodle.
  • Blogging:  This makes 3/3 with a fiction post.  3/3 with a fiction post on the other site too.  Good times.
I'm doing well.  Life hasn't been any less busy either.  Football is still rolling.  We had people over this weekend.  This weekend should be calmer.  I'm hoping to maybe block aside a half day and knock out a whole chapter.  We'll see if that comes to fruition though.

Here's the big finish, the word counts:
  • Since last check-in: 6,157
  • Fiction: 2,523
  • 41% New Fiction
  • Grand Total for the challenge: 51,049
Read more

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Character Closeup: Michael

Michael Allen is my point of view character throughout all of The Binder's Daughter.  I chose to lead off this series with Kiara, which may seem strange since we see the story through Michael's eyes, but that's how Michael would want it.

Mike is one of the vampires in the novel (there are really only two).  I don't feel I'm spoiling too much by revealing that.  A quick read of the prologue would tell you as much. 

When I was conceptualizing Mike, I knew I wanted to write about a vampire.  I've loved vampires for a long time, dating back to my love affair with the Angel television series.  I was always more of an Angel fan than a Buffy fan, though I liked both series.  Something about a vampire with a soul intrigued me.  And, let's be honest, David Boreanaz is pretty awesome (Also, Charisma Carpenter was/is smoking hot.  Incidentally, I'm a big Bones fan now too.   I've just come across a quotation from creator Joss Whedon comparing Angel to Buffy: "It's a little bit more straightforward action show and a little bit more of a guys' show."  So I guess my affection makes sense, though I'd never really thought of it that way before).

Anyway, vampiric history aside, writing about vampires can be tough.  So much is being done and has been done.  I didn't really want to re-use tired old character tropes for my lead character.  I wasn't setting out to reinvent the wheel, but neither did I want to copy/paste a character.

First of all, Mike is young for a vampire.  He was born in 1964.  Most vampire leads seem to be ancient, so I felt this was a neat little twist on the trope.  Mike, had he aged normally, would just be old enough to be of an age with Kiara's parents.  Since I'm closer to Kiara in age, I looked to my parents for inspiration.  Michael is really patterned after my late father.  I think it makes for an interesting, yet not totally un-relatable relationship.  We're not talking about some guy from a completely different age, awkward with today's conventions.  He's just an "older guy" in spirit. 

Why Michael Allen?  Well, when I looked up popular names in 1964, Michael tops the list.  I also have a brother name Michael.  My father's middle name (and my other brother's) is Allen.  Seemed a good mash up and kept me focus on my inspiration.  When I'm in Mike's head, it's like I'm talking with my father to some extent.

Mike is decently tall at around six feet, and I gave him blond hair.  His natural eye color is brown, though we see him go through several eye colors in the book.  I always liked the concept of Vampires eyes giving them away somehow, be it through straight red irises that emphasize the demonic underpinnings, or something less sinister.  Still, I wanted to have the colors make a certain amount of scientific sense, and I think I explain it well enough in the novel.

A dynamic character, Mike opens up in response to Kiara over the course of the novel.  Like any good romance, the two characters work as compliments to each other.  Where Kiara is rash, Michael is more deliberate.  Where Kiara is playful, Mike is serious.  Yet, he definitely better off for having met her.

I feel like I need to point out that, for a vampire novel, I don't delve very deep into vampire lore.  One of the consequences of Mike being a young vampire and also an extreme recluse because of his unique origins is that he doesn't know a whole lot about the vampire community.  Also, I'm not sure he cares.  He's never been a part of a coven and doesn't really have a desire to live among others of his kind. 

We learn about vampires as he does, to some extent.  I tried to steer clear of laying down any "hard" rules.  All we know, we know through the more-or-less reliable lens of Mike (a perk of the first person viewpoint).  This gives me significant wiggle room in the future for Mike to discover things about his own nature, and I think keeps it from being too "campy."  I didn't really want to make the book about vampires, so much as interesting characters.  Yet another reason why I led off with Kiara.  The story is really hers, seen through Mike's eyes.

Michael's past is more interesting than even he realizes at the end of this first book, and I have some neat things in store for him.  Ultimately, he's my mash up of everything that I find fun in the vampire genre, which makes him a blast to write.  I look forward to messing with more tropes in the future to keep him familiar without being boring.  That's always a challenge in a well-covered genre.

As always, feel free to leave questions if you have them.  I try to avoid spoiler in the main article, but it's open season in comments.  Give me something I can sink my teeth into (Ha! Get it? Teeth! Ha! *groan*)...
Read more

Friday, August 26, 2011

Damian The Grey

Damian crept over on wary feet. He froze when the knock sounded again, and then closed the last few steps to look out through the peep hole. Two suited strangers stood on the other side of the hotel door, looking very much like stereotypical government agents. Righty leaned back as if he had been the one knocking, while Lefty rocked back and forth on his feet impatiently.

"Who's there?" Damian called out.

"Room service," Lefty said dryly.

Righty chuckled.

They do not appear to be employees of the inn, Inigo observed.

No shit, Sherlock, Damian replied.

"I'm sorry, I believe you have the wrong room," Damian answered the men.

Righty leaned in toward the door and smiled.  His teeth were stained yellow and cracked, gums dark around the edges.  Damian involuntarily took a step back.

"Damian Gardner," Righty growled.  "No, I believe we have it right.  Open the door."

And though there was a door between them, Damian felt naked.  Wood, or metal, or whatever it was did not hide him from their penetrating eyes.  They knew right where he was.

"G-go away," Damian stammered.  "Whatever you're here for, I don't want any part of it."

"Well that's just too damn bad."

The door exploded inwards, splinters of the jamb spinning through the air.  Damian backed up until his knee slammed against something painful, and then flipped onto the bed.  The men strode into the room, eyes burning for Damian.

Literally.  They were burning.  Damian gawked.  Their irises were orange flames licking against a black background.  There was nothing human about them.  Panic shot through Damian like electricity arching off a Van de Graaff generator.

Damian fought with the comforter on the bed, wiggling like a fish caught in a net.  He thrashed about, managing somehow to chuck the two pillows at his pursuers.  Lefty swatted one away casually, while Righty slashed the other aside with a knife.  A shower of white fluff spurted from the wounded sleeping implement.

A knife!  A knife!

There seemed an echo in his brain.  No time to worry about that now.  Damian flipped heels over head, rolling across the bed and landing on the other side.  His hand darted out and grabbed the first thing it could find.  The lamp.  He pulled it off the nightstand and held it, burning before him as it if were a wizard's staff, though it was hardly large enough.

The men paused on the far side of the bed, pinning him with those awful eyes.  They spread ever-so-slightly in the cramped room - Righty to the right, Lefty to the left - blocking both an escape around the foot of the bed, and back across its disheveled surface.  A crazed psychosis overcame Damian just then, and he embraced it, saying the first thing that came to his mind.

"You shall not pass!" he bellowed.

Lefty cocked his head and took a step forward.  Righty just laughed.
Read more

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ROW80: Writers Write, Right?

Football (and school) has officially started! Other than that, things have been relatively calm. Thus, I feel like I've been able to keep on top of things, though some of the other side jobs that indie authors should do are taking a bit of a backseat. The focus has just been to write, write, write.

Here's the quick run-down of the goals:
  • Publishing Lesson Learned: Writing is an author's best form of promotion.
  • WIP Pages: 6. On target.  I keep trying to squeeze extra pages in, but get busy.  Truthfully, I'm about a half page ahead, and I even worked in an editing day this week as I finished another chapter.  I'm modifying my WIP desire-to-finish date to Labor Day.  There's just no honest way I'm going to hit the end of the month, even keeping my current pace.  I don't want to rush it.
  • Blogging: I was 3/3 here, but need to make a fiction post.  I'll probably do that before the week ends.  3/3 on the other site, too.  Got the fiction up there on Friday.
Solid on the goals.  Ideally, I'd like to be beating them right now, working hard to pushing my second book out before Christmas, but unfortunately I just don't have as much time as I'd like.  That's what happens when, essentially, writing is my third job right now. 

Still, like I emphasized in my lesson learned this week, writing is an author's best form of promotion.  My current situation is testing my dedication to that mantra.  I have a book out.  I wish I could promote it more.  But the choice comes down to: do I spend time promoting and thinking about promoting, or time writing the next thing?  The easy promotional things I'm doing, but the thing about promotion is you could always do more. 

One of the things I've eschewed in favor of time is being active on forums.  Also, I'm not a super-big talker on Twitter, though I regularly read my feed and try to answer quickly to anything relevant.  I simply prefer the blogging avenue more than any other.  What's more: it involves writing.  I wish I could comment more than I do, but at the very least I'm reading a lot. 

And writing. 

Continuing to write is key.  Writing is what makes a writer a writer.  If you stop writing for an extended period of time to promote, you're not a writer during those times.  You're a marketer.  Writers write.  It's important to remember that.

Sure, promote if you can.  I'm not saying promotion is bad.  But I do think too many indie writers fall into the trap of becoming a marketer and forgetting their writer roots.  And it usually ends in unhappiness.  Besides, writing more, producing new material, being active at the keyboard... that sells more books anyway.  At least for fiction writers, you want people to find you for your writing, not because of your promotional ability.  I suppose I'm not of the mind that "any success is good success."  I want to succeed for the right reasons.  I want to sell because my stories are enjoyable, not because I simply created buzz.  The buzz should follow the writing.

Again, if you can do both, great.  But if you have to choose one, choose writing.  Every time.

That was a bit of a rant I guess.  The completely transparent reason behind it is to make me feel less guilty, I suppose.  Being a publisher necessitates wearing all of the hats.  As a small indie with a day job, I have to be realistic.  I can't wear all the hats all the time.  I just need to make sure that my base hat is the write one.  (Get it?  Ha.)

Anyway, I'll close with the usual look at the word counts:
  • Since last check-in: 5,820
  • Fiction: 2,321
  • 40% New Fiction
  • Grand Total for the challenge: 44,892
Read more

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Elements of Emotion

I found a great article from a new blog I'm now following, courtesy of The Passive Voice yesterday. Being somewhat of a Psychology affectionado myself, how could I not be enticed by a "Brain Scientist's Take on Writing?"  The piece I read yesterday is a prime example of what this means.  Livia Blackburne dissects the pieces of a tear-jerker death scene.  It provides an interesting look for readers and writers alike.

I've not really attempted what I would call a "true" death scene yet.  I've had characters die, sure.  Even important ones, but generally I've not had our MC holding their hand as the plug is pulled (or something in that vein).  Still, the goal of any good writer should be to tie emotion to your characters, and death is a powerful tool for that.  At some point, we're all likely to experience loss, so it's something we can all relate to.

Livia provides some great suggestions on how to write an effective emotional scene.  I'm approaching the end of my current project, and the climatic scene is always something I dream about for months in advance.  Of all the scenes in a novel, the climax is the one you absolutely have to get right.  In the case of my current WIP, there will be several deaths.  I'm not entirely sure I'm going for a tear-jerker here, but I definitely want it to be emotional.

Quite frankly, I'm more of a fan of deaths at the end that have the reader cheering.  Maybe I feel that there is enough sadness (though I won't deny the cathartic nature of a good cry).  Even so, I think I tend to prefer the happy side.  Like when I saw the last Harry Potter movie and Beatrix Lestrange finally got kedavra'ed (or whatever skin sucking spell Mrs. Weasley used).  It doesn't always take death to make someone cry either.  My dark secret?  I cry every time I watch Field of Dreams.  Playing catch with your dad's ghost (or whatever)... I'm a sucker for that particular exchange.  I guess there's death there, but it's hardly a "death scene." 

Even in those different examples, a lot of Livia's suggestions hold up... just slightly skewed.  For instance, her first point of "Emphasize the good qualities of the dying character."  You can flip that for a Lestrangian death: emphasize that nasty bits.  I think she taunts Mrs. Weasley about her kids right before she bites it.  What a nasty witch.  (I said witch... with a "w".)

Or with #8: "Show how much the other characters miss the deceased."  Flip it for a villain.  Have people cheer the death.  I don't know about you, but I get chills when the last army of men cheer the death of Sauron.

In the case of Field of Dreams, the MC's unresolved feelings for his father have been made plain throughout the story.  We already know that he misses him.  The scene is the payoff.

The point is that these are all ways of pulling the thread of human emotion.  At our very base, a lot of similar things make us tick.  If, as a writer, you want to recreate emotion in your stories (and you definitely do!), you need to understand these elements.  As a reader, it may be nice to know too... at the very least so you can have Kleenex ready. 
Read more

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Character Closeup: Kiara

This is the first of what I hope will prove to be a fun little series of posts.  I think most authors probably keep a running note sheet along with their novels.  For me, the first page of any note sheet is a list of characters and descriptions.  I try to boil the characters down to a a few core words or ideas that I can play off of, maybe a quirk or two, and any identifying features.

When I put it that way, it sort of sounds like a rap sheet.

One of the things I wanted to do on here is talk about the characters and sort of muse on my ideas behind them.  I've gotten some good feedback on my first novel already, and one of the main themes to the reviews seems to be that readers relate to my characters.  If there is a #1 thing that I wanted to succeed at in writing a novel, it was to have characters people remember and care about.  Characters are the top reason I continue to read books (especially a series), and I think that is reflected in my writing.  Thus, it seemed a pretty simple idea to give each of these characters a "closeup" on here.  I'll try to keep these brief and spoiler-free.  Also, if anyone has questions pertaining to the characters, feel free to leave 'em in the comments and I'll keep going.

I wanted to lead off with Kiara Nakatomi.  The Binder's Daughter is told from the perspective of Michael Allen, a vampire.  Kiara, then, is the female lead and main romantic interest.  She has an athletic physique, with long, jet black hair, olive skin, and green eyes (the left has a birthmark on it).  She's not very tall, somewhere around 5'6".  Despite her name, her features hint at a more Mediterranean/Russian origin than asian.  She lives in Hebron, IN with her adoptive father Keisuke and works as a waitress at their small sushi shop.

My concept of Kiara's character traits was based firmly on my wife.  I've mentioned before that when I started writing the book, I kept my intended audience extremely focused to my wife and my little sister.  Thus, it is no surprise that I went this route with one of the leads.

I wanted to write a strong female that does as much saving as being saved.  I firmly believe that any healthy relationship has to be balanced.  I know we romanticize the whole damsel in distress thing, but in real life, a good partnership sees both members in the role of savior from time to time.  With this in mind, I had to make Kiara strong enough to stand up to Michael, to be a true partner.

Her physical attributes are pretty similar to my wife's.  I darkened the hair (from dark brown) and emphasized the olive skin tint (my wife makes me look quite pale, and she's of Russian descent).  The distinctive marking on Kiara's left eye, the mark on the iris, is actually something my wife has as well on her green eyes.  Similar to Michael, this was one of the first of her unique traits that I really fell in love with.  It also gave me a built-in way for Michael to recognize Kiara in any situation (which is sort of important).  Also, needless to say, they're eyes I know well (write what you know and all that).

Kiara is certainly a dynamic character.  Early on, she is a bit reclusive, even standoffish.  I think it's clear that she's a caring person, she's just been hiding who she really is most of her life.  Trust and showing her true colors are things she really needs to work at.

As we read, Kiara gets more playful and open.  I try to play off her quirkiness a bit in how she interacts with Matthias.  They've both experienced similar feelings of being the odd duck.  Near the end, we see a bit of Kiara's rash, wild nature.  She tends to let emotion guide her actions, not in a weepy way, but more in an attempt to be heroic.  She's a take-the-bull-by-the-horns type of gal who certainly doesn't want to sit around while those close to her suffer.

I hope to continue to grow her character in the next book in the series.  It'll be the first time that she really is the driver in her own life (having left that up to Keisuke until now).  I'm anxious to see what she'll do.  I think she regrets having skipped out on college after high school.  That may factor heavily in the next book.

I purposefully avoided some of the spoilers with Kiara, but feel free to ask anything in the comments (even the things that I avoided).  If you're a potential reader that doesn't want anything revealed, steer clear of the comments :-). 

I'll try to touch on each of the other main characters in the upcoming weeks.  Feel free to email me with questions or suggestions ahead of time if you'd like.  I'll try to cover it in the post.
Read more

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ROW80: Oh, Snapple.

Ha! Finally out the other side of the time-suck gauntlet. Football has slowed down to the more manageable single practice a day schedule. School starts again pretty soon. We have our first game this Friday. It'll still be a struggle to get my writing done (energy is at a premium in-season), but it becomes more about motivation than time. (Which is why I have y'all and ROW80, right?)

Here's a quick look at the goals:
  • Publishing Lesson Learned: Sony and Apple are trying hard to increase ebook presence.  More on why this is important after the list.
  • WIP Pages: 6.  On target.  Just barely squeezed this one in.  I want this number to start going up a bit as I near the end of the WIP.  I'm hoping to have it done by the end of the month so I can get it to editors and give us time to perhaps hit Christmas.  That may be an ambitious goal, though.
  • Blogging: This makes 4/3 for here with one fiction post.  3/3 with one fiction post at the WoW Blog.  Goal exceeded.
Another good week.  It got a little dicey early on, but I pulled it out.  My "side-goal" of getting my WIP done this month is going to be rough for me.  On one hand, I would really like to get it done and out for editing.  On the other, I don't like to rush myself.  The book business is still my second job, not my first.  As such, I need to be sure to keep the other areas of my life in balance (and take care that I don't "burn out").  Still, I'm hoping that as I get into some of these end scenes, the words will flow a lot easier.  That's usually how it happens.

With regards to the publishing lesson, I mentioned that Apply and Sony are trying to shake things up a bit.  Apple, by disallowing in-app purchases, is trying to drive people to their iBookstore.  Amazon has countered with a web-app, but the intent is there. 

Sony announced that they're going to be selling readers pre-loaded with the Harry Potter series come Christmas.  Want to know a sure way to entice new customers to pick your reader?  Two words: Harry Friggin' Potter.  Since each device is tied to its own store, look for the Sony store to perhaps see some more significant sales numbers.  Kindle and Nook are still tops, but it's good to be poised to take advantage of new markets.  If you're an Indie Author and you use Smashwords, you should already have this covered.  Check your Distribution Channel.

It was nice to get a comment from Nadja last week on my fiction post, so thanks for that.  Those are sort of my practice area, and I just try to have fun with them.  I have a definite story in mind, but it's pretty flexible.  It's good to hear what works, or what people conjecture about what's happening.  In this case, Nadja's comment is on the right line, which lets me know I'm laying the proper story foundation (without completely giving it away).  Now I just need to hit some action...

As always, I'll finish with Word Counts:
  • Since last check-in: 6,481
  • Fiction: 2,056
  • 32% New Fiction
  • Grand Total for the challenge: 39,072
Read more

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Party of One...ish.

Damian pulled into the hotel parking space and the engine sputtered off.  As usual, the door did not want to open when he pushed against it.  He put his shoulder down and gave a harder shove.  It squealed past the point of resistance, flinging wide.  Thankfully, the space next to him was unoccupied.  He'd chosen this space - the furthest from the door - for just that reason.

Sometimes, it is considered mercy to kill a lame horse, Inigo pontificated.

Damian chose not to respond.  Instead, he pulled the trunk open and removed his luggage.  He slung a black bag containing a laptop over his shoulder.  The other, larger piece was on wheels.  He heaved it out and popped up the handle. 

It slid halfway, and then stuck.  He pressed the button harder, worrying the thing back and forth.  He pulled and rattled, pulled and rattled.  It would not budge from half-mast.  He cursed at it, but that didn't solve the problem either.  Instead, he simply turned and trudged off toward the hotel, stooped at an uncomfortable angle.

I wonder if she got my message, Damian's mind wandered.

Are such messages often waylaid? Inigo asked.

Damian considered how to respond.  I suppose it depends on the person.  She could have lost her phone for all Damian knew.  Or left it at home while she was at work.  Or simply turned the ringer off and didn't realize he was trying to reach her.  Whatever the case, he hoped she wasn't sitting alone at home, waiting on him.

He considered calling again, but didn't want to risk pushing her number of missed calls into double digits.  It would seem desperate, he reasoned.

Inigo let that one pass with a simple chuckle.

The check-in went as smoothly as one might expect.  His last name had been misspelled: Gardener.  People always insisted on adding the extra "e" for some reason.  He was neither a botanist, nor a tiller of land.  Wide brimmed hats made him look silly, and his fingers were most assuredly not green.  In fact, all of the plants in his apartment were plastic.

The room was tolerable.  There was not an inch of dust on the faux-wooden surfaces.  No shards of glass lurked in the bathroom sink.  The air was free of a musty chlorinated smell.  The bed was only slightly lumpy when Damian laid down on it atop the comforter.  He'd been in worse.  Heck, he might even risk sleeping beneath the covers.

There was a time when one was fortunate to be able to sleep on something other than straw, Inigo noted.  Shall I call you Lord Damian?

If you wish, fair subject, Damian answered.

If the voice in his head could have waved in disgust, Damian was sure he would have.  It made Damian smile.  His smile made him think of Genny.  He pulled out his phone and stared at it.  The clock read quarter to eight.  He sighed, and reached over to turn on the beside lamp.  It was long, skinny, and utilitarian, like everything else in the room.  Perhaps he would do some reading. 

It is not too late! Inigo said.

She is over an hour away, Inigo.  There is no way I would be able to keep the date now.

A pity.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.
Read more

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Necessity of Reviews

If you didn't already notice, we are in the midst of what I like to call The Book Revolution.  Like the Industrial Revolution, only with books.  We're transitioning from draft-animal driven paper books into steam-powered ebooks.  Or something.

One of the new issues of emerging importance is that of the online review.  Authors are building platforms of readers by using social networking.  These networks, in turn, allow the consumer to provide near-instant feedback.  By and by, authors are becoming increasingly dependent on succeeding with individual readers, one pair of eyes at a time.

Where before your only vote was your dollar, now you have a voice as reader.  Before, a lot of the success of an author depending on how many marketing dollars were thrown behind their beloved projects.  Now, I'm of the belief that if the writing is good enough, the readers will find it.  With search engines these days, it's amazing how people wander their way to your book.  It's an exciting time for reader and writer alike.

Now, not all readers are the same.  Some like to look for the next big thing.  Others stick with the authors they've grown to love over the years.  Still others consult genre listings, or bestseller lists.  One of the things all these types of readers have in common is the reliance on word of mouth.  If someone tells them "hey, check out his new author," they might do it.  If someone says "check out the new book from so-and-so, your favorite," they'll probably do it.  If someone says, "did you hear about that new yadda yadda book?" they have now. 

Word of mouth is a powerful advertising tool, one Indie authors are especially reliant on.  It's not something particular to books, either.  It seems to be common whenever things are purchased online.

A look at my own buying habits seems to confirm this.  I may be buying the latest best-selling thriller, or just a new electric Impact Wrench.  In both cases, as I'm searching the web, I check out what other people have to say about the different choices.  Is one brand better than the other?  What do the reviews say?  Are there any gotchas?

Not all reviews are created equal.  You're inevitably going to come across the good and the bad, but taken in the collective, they paint what I've found to be a pretty accurate picture of what you can expect.  This is why reviews are so important to aspiring authors. 

People are a lot more willing to take a chance on someone if it has generally gotten good reviews.  Conversely, they'll steer clear of the slush.  Remember this the next time you read a good book (or a bad one).  Your voice matters!  As more and more books are sold online, it will become increasingly important to gather reviews.  Not by critics, but by real consumers, the actual audience.

Word of mouth has always been a big seller of books.  When people hear a buzz about something in particular, they're far more likely to search that item out.  The Internet has only made this easier, more accessible for everyone.  If you want to fine a niche, urban fantasy about shapeshifters and samurai with a little vampire thrown in, it is only a search box away.

With great technology comes great responsibility.  Write a review.  An honest one.  Click on one star or five.  Help a reader out.  A single reader has a lot more power today than they ever have before.

This reader happens to find that pretty darned cool.
Read more

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beta Reader Approach

Fellow ROW'er and Author Nadja Notariani is 20 19 18 days away from her P-day.  An apt reference for one's planned day of publication because it often seems like a battle just to get there.  She writes about this a bit in her latest update.

Apart from wanting to wish her well, I also wanted to chime in on my views about beta readers.  In her post, she asks: "What criteria do you have for selecting betas?"  I had a rather long comment all prepped and ready, but things started getting finicky.  For whatever reason, it wouldn't let me log in so that I could leave my comment under my name.  I didn't really want to be anonymous.  That, combined with the length of the comment, made a decision for me: Put it in a post, instead!

So, here's my approach to earlier feedback readers...

I have alphas and betas. I always wonder where the "alpha" goes. I guess most writers consider themselves the alpha and then whomever they share the story with immediately after as the betas?  Well I have both.

My alphas read pretty much as I write. It works for me. I have three right now. I generally look for "readers" over "writers." I want people who are well-read in the genre I'm writing in, that aren't afraid to be honest with me. That simple. I want to know their likes and dislikes. It's up to me to interpret these into "writer speak." I see a lot of advice to the contrary out there. About how you need good alpha/betas that know how to tell you what's wrong as a writer. I think I'm clever enough to play interpreter. Maybe I'm not, who knows.

My true betas get somewhere around the third draft. Again, I choose readers over writers.  Some sort of background in the English language is a plus, but not a concrete requirement.  The more eyes, the better.  I want people that are going to tell me "this is too much like x," or even just "boooring."

Readers are who I'm trying to sell to, not writers.  I understand how having a writerly alpha/beta can help, but, to me, success as an author starts and ends with pleasing the reader.  Relying on things like critique groups can also hurt you too, as there may be a tendency to edit your voice out or other pitfalls.  Good feedback readers can definitely be effective, but, oh, the perils of a poor one.

Also, you can have a totally air-tight work of art, great prose and all that... that doesn't sell.  Don't forget that at the core, as a fiction writer, you need to be a storyteller first.  The writing is a close second, but writing without story is a fish out of water.

Then, at the end... copyediting. Yaaay.

P-day is a harrowing experience, especially the first time. At some point, you have to come to grips with, no matter how much time you spend on it, you're going to put something out there that is NOT perfect. It's just the nature of the beast. I'll bet even Stephen King still finds errors in some of his books and facepalms...

My advice would be, after you send your draft out, wait until you have all the feedback from your editors/readers. Write something else in the meantime. Make sure you give yourself a little distance. Then, buckle down hard for a week (or 20 days) with all the notes and revisions. Knock 'em out, then let the birdie fly! Don't look back, start on the next project.  Learn the lessons experience wants to teach you, and then apply them to the next story.
That's where I'm coming from, anyway.
Read more

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ROW 80: Squeezing it in.

I'm halfway through my second week of 13 hour days. Magically, I think I've pretty much stuck to the goals.  I've really had to buckle down, but sometimes you'll have that.  That's what goals are for, right?  To keep you focused in the busy times.  Here's a quick look at where I stand:
  • Publishing Lesson Learned: First month's numbers are in!  More on that in a moment.  Also, thanks to the comments on the post last week, we're checking out the media rate and flat rate envelopes for shipping signed copies today.  Also, I'm now aware of Kindlegraph for signing ebooks.  I need to do some more research on it though when I get some time.
  • WIP pages: 7.  Got one back.  Had one of those days where the words flowed and I knocked out an easy 2.5 pages.  Fun scene.
  • Blogging:  This makes 4/3 for here, one a fiction post.  3/3 on the other blog, though I took a week off from fiction practice there.  I'll still say goal exceeded.
So, it was a good week.  Despite having football and even stopping in at GenCon, I was able to squeeze in my goals.  My blog posts were a bit shorter, but brief isn't always bad.  Nearing the end of a WIP really helps, as I'm getting to all the fun scenes that I've been imagining forever.  Plus, it's easier to apply butt to chair when the end is in sight.

Also, now that my book has been out for almost exactly a month, we're starting to get some feedback from the first "commercial" readers.  Most are family and friends, but not all are.  I'm completely baffled, sometimes, at how people find my book.  Ah, the wonder of search engines.  I'd like to think this also means that my blurb and cover are, if not great, at least good.  Enough to hook readers on their own, which is the goal.

The book went live for Kindle on July 9th.  The other editions followed shortly with full launch finishing up on the 25th when we finally got print going.  Most of my earliest buyers are finishing up, which means reviews!  Good reviews too.  I don't think I've gotten anything below a five star yet with perhaps a good handful of responders scattered across several sites.  Thank you to everyone who has done that!  People really do take that in account when considering a book, especially reviews.  So you're helping not only me, but other readers as well.  I'm not sure that the five-star streak can hold, but it's a great start.  I only encourage honesty (if something didn't work for you, please be honest!).

In case you're curious, for the month of July, I sold 34 copies of the book.  It isn't quite a full month, but 34 is a great number for a debut indie author.  Most of the sales (12) were on Kindle, but the Nook is not far off (9).  My other big source was the print version (8), but I sort of expect those to tail off.  Family and friends love having the print version to support me, but I would guess once I exhaust that part of my market, new readers will be more likely to digital customers.  We'll see.

Being able to simply share a story like this is a dream come true.  It is awesome to be able to offer even just those close to me a nicely bound paperback.  Pretty cool.  Also, side effect: reviews, sales, sharing... they all help with that whole butt-to-chair thing as well.  Still, I'm trying to keep my expectations low.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  I simply need to keep writing and let the stories speak for themselves.  I have faith that, in today's age of technology, if my stories merit a readership, they'll find it.  My job is to simply offer the best I can write, and always keep learning.

As always, I'll close with a quick look at the word count:
  • Since last check-in: 6472
  • Fiction: 2349
  • 36% New Fiction
  • Grand Total for the challenge: 32,591
Read more

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Conflict of Interest

The hand on the clock assaulted gravity once more, pulling itself upward with a tired, trembling arm. Damian imagined he could see the hidden gears flexing like muscles beneath the smooth, white surface. The ticks marking the passing seconds were teeth, poised to chomp down on his neck and trap him here, forever.

"I was only on the phone for a mo-" Damian blurted, stopping when The Boss raised his meaty hand.

"That's not why you're here," The Boss said, jowls trembling.

Damian's eyes darted around the small office, searching for an escape.  If the denizens of the world were strictly divided into "fight" or "flight," he was most assuredly a bird.  Even now he was envious of the crow taking wing outside, having pecked his fill of corn off the ripened stalks that filled the window view.

Wood paneling hemmed him in as effectively as any metal cage, however.  The menacing fluorescent tubes above chased away all trace of friendly shadow.  Behind him, the closed door might as well have been on the other side of a gator-filled moat for all the chance of passage it might offer Damian.

"Um, sir?" he stammered.

The leather executive chair protested The Boss's shifting weight.  "Our customer has requested your presence in an off-site meeting."  The sentence seemed to leave a sour taste in his mouth.  His lips smacked before he continued with, "So, I'll need you to go ahead and drive yourself to the airport tomorrow night.  See my secretary on your way out.  She's already booked your flight."

"Did you say tomorrow, sir?" Damian asked.

"Yes."  His cheeks jiggled with the nod.  "The first flight we could book you on is an early one.  You should consider yourself lucky, since the airport is on the other side of the city, your trip qualifies you for an overnight stay.  Five miles closer and you'd have had to drive through traffic in the morning.  Your hotel is booked as well."

Damian was sure that the "first" flight was really cheapest, it's bargain only rivaled by that of the certainly flea-ridden hotel.  It was the implication that concerned him most.  "Overnight?" he squeaked.

The Boss shrugged.  "I don't make the rules.  Have a nice flight."

And then he turned around and began pounding away at his keyboard.  Damian stood to leave.  He had obviously been dismissed.

You already have made plans, Inigo reminded him.  Tell this thing to your boss.  He cannot simply expect you to be available whenever he requires it.

Yes, he can, Damian replied.  That's sort of how it works.

You do not even try! Inigo said disgustedly.

Fine.  Damian turned back.  As he opened his mouth, the phone rang.  His boss revolved and shooed him out. 

"Hello?  Yes, Sherry.  Put him through."

Damian closed his mouth.  Who was he kidding?  He draped himself in defeat and left.

Coward, Inigo heaped on.

I'll just have to reschedule, Damian replied.  Surely, she'll understand.

She would have to, wouldn't she?
Read more

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Randomness

As often happens on Monday as I clean out my feed reader, I am presented with a series of seemingly unconnected thoughts that I wish to relay.  Call it an visit from the most ADD of my Muses.  Often, it is simply that I find said better in other places what I would have said, given time.  Then, I feel the urge to relay these ideas, citing my source of inspiration, and getting them out.  Once the ADD Muse is satiated, on then may I progress to more solid thought content.

That's a very long way of saying: Today you get Random Monday links and bullet points.  Yaaay.
  • Let's lead off with the Michael J. Sullivan.  I'm itching to read his books, and they're in my Goodreads queue.  I love his take on writing (I think I've mentioned before).  Today he helps me clarify the idea I was trying to express last week with my Chapter Breaks post.  Namely, I feel like I write mini-stories.  I approach each chapter and each blog post as a mini-story.  My novels, then, are large collections of related mini-stories.  That's exactly how I see it.  Thanks Michael!
  • Lisa Schroeder reminds me that it's okay to keep my money.  For some reason I always battle guilt with asking people to pay me for my stories.  I certainly believe they're worth it, I just want so bad to share them and know how money can be an issue sometimes.  I try to remind myself that it is also in a reader's best interest to pay me.  It's "support" not a "paycheck."  The more copies I sell, the closer I get to the dream of being able to focus purely on writing, and that's a happy day for everyone involved.
  • Following on the heels of Lisa's article, I read this over at Write to Publish from Michael's wife Robin (see, these aren't as random as you'd think!).  She writes about Rick Murcer who is experiencing indie success right now on the Kindle charts.  Reading about his background and approach, I consider his success to be a "proof of concept" for me.  Lisa cautions against spending money simply to "keep up with the Joneses" and Rick took a very homegrown, family approach to publishing (tends to be cheaper in terms of money... but quality?  You decide.)  It's good to see that the approach can work.
So that's it.  Three semi-related ideas.  Three bits of inspiration I found over the weekend.  Now maybe I can work on getting a fiction post up.  Or get back to that my work in progress.  I'm so close to the end of that that I can taste it.  I'd love to have it out for Christmas.  Fingers crossed.
Read more

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chapter Breaks

I was reading a thought provoking article the other day about chapter breaks.  Provocatively titled "What everybody misses about chapter breaks," the article makes the point that an author should make the most of the partitioning of a book, not to give the reader a break, but the keep them reading. 

That's all well and good, but I suppose I tend to take a more procedural view of breaks.  That isn't to say I disagree with the sentiment, just that I think it's more complicated than that.  As with anything in writing, you can espouse one "right" way to do things and then come up with a million working exceptions.  There aren't really rules so much as guidelines.

Roz, the author of the linked article, says she doesn't even divide the chapters up until the very end.  At that point, she searches diligently for optimum placement.  I can see how this would be effective, however my writing process pushes me to a different approach.

In what I'm learning is perhaps an atypical practice, I like to write a chapter at a time and then ship each chapter off to my trusted alpha readers for immediate feedback.  I guess you could say that once I got over the hump of "don't want to share my work with anyone," I decided I don't need to wait until it is absolutely done before I share.  I'm pretty slow and deliberate when I write, more of a Dean Koontz than a Stephen King, so my drafts have above average polish.  I spend more time up front with the initial writing.  Most writers seem to invest that time later.  It's still time, any way you slice it.

I'm also a sequential writer.  That's a big part of it.  I tend to write from start to finish, without a whole lot of jumping around in scenes.  I'll take notes or sketch out ideas as other scenes come to mind, but I generally don't write out of order.  It's just what I've found works for me.

The point here is that my process lends itself well to choosing my breaks earlier.  I may go back later and shift them around to increase effect, but mostly I put them where I want them.  If you read my books, you'll probably notice that the chapters are roughly the same size too.  That, also, may be a bit atypical.  As a reader, outlier chapters drive me nuts.  I feel like it ruins the pacing.  If you've ever been in the middle of a chapter thinking "when is this chapter going to end," you know what I'm talking about.  It may be riveting, but maybe I need an emotional break before I can re-invest.  If a chapter always ends on a mini-climax... well it seems like an HBO series.  That's not bad, but it's not what I want to do.

Keeping roughly equal chapter sizes helps pace me as a writer.  It keeps me honest.  It keeps me efficient.  Some people enjoy really flowery descriptions and long chunks of prose.  They have a place, but that's not really me.  I'm writing fantasy, but I'm almost trying to do them as thrillers.  I think it's a different sort of approach.  A lot of fantasy writers really try to paint this huge picture.  I want to give you just enough to paint it yourself, and get on with the story.

My choice of chapter break size is very deliberate.  It keeps things moving.  It aligns with my writing process.  It allows the reader to anticipate what "sitting down to read a chapter" will mean, and hopefully avoids the feeling of "when is this chapter going to end."  I really try to end "appropriately" to keep you wanting to read the next chapter, but I don't want to be gimmicky about it.  It is only one small slice of the pie in my mind.

Maybe I'm one of everybody who is missing a key part of chapter breaks.  I like to think I'm purposefully valuing the other functions a little higher than your average writer.  I've had a lot of positive feedback over the years on my fiction blog posts.  I've tried to carry that success and formula into my novels.  I look at each chapter as a really long blog post.  That isn't to say they're informal or anything, but that I want to pack in gripping content and have that content bring you back, not mechanics strategically placed on the ends.  They're good when I can use them, but I'm not going to force it.  You can call it "staying true to my voice."

But maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe I'm devaluing the "bam" at the end of chapters.  If you've read my stuff (or even if you haven't), let me know what you think.  I want to keep learning.
Read more

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ROW80: Ridin' the Storm Out

The Storm has officially arrived. High School Football season is here in all its two-practice-a-day glory.  For the team I volunteer with, this means practice from 4-9pm (with dinner and a break in between practices).  Thus, I do the day job from 8-4 and then the football job from 4-9.  13 hour days are hell on the writing schedule.  Still, I'm being stubborn about my goals.  I think, with dedication, that I can still hit them.  I'll probably be erring on the short side for the next two weeks though until we get out of two-a-days.

Here's a quick look at the goals:
  • Publishing Lesson Learned - People are going to request signed copies.  I suppose I didn't expect it.  After all, I'm pretty much a nobody right now.  We've developed out policy on how to handle this after looking at what a few other authors do.  More on this in a bit. 
  • WIP Pages: 5 - Considering we traveled this weekend and The Storm hit, I'm okay with this number.  The word count was also closer to my six page average, which indicates some more prose-heavy sections that tend to take longer.
  • Blogging - This makes only 2 out of 3 for this site, though I went 3/3 on the other site (just barely).  I did get one fiction post on each site, so that's good.  Posting in general suffered due to travel.  I tend to post during breaks at work, and I had to take Friday and Monday off for other commitments.  Thus, my normal posting window shrank.  I knocked my monthly personal post out before The Storm hit, so not too bad here either.
Again, this represents a full week for me.  I have weekly goals, so I've been focused on checking in weekly.  The Sunday check in generally gets skipped by me because weekends are usually too busy.  Still, it is important to make sure to hit at least one per week for accountability, even if I'm busy.  Wednesdays have just been the better fit.

I'm only the tiniest hair short on my goals this week.  A lot can be attributed to the reunion we attended this weekend.  It was a two day thing, effectively sucking up all the time for those days with activities.  I did manage to write a little in the car, which is always fun.  More importantly, we capitalized on the yearly meeting to share the word about my book.  Thus, while the writing goals may have been missed, we sold several books this weekend to interested and enthusiastic family members.  The fun thing about this was that it wasn't like I had to really self-promote... family is generally interested in what you're doing anyway.  It pays to have a big, loud family sometimes.  Literally.  (Thank you to all of you that supported me!)

Which brings us back to the issue of signed copies and lessons learned.  Like I mentioned, I've been surprised by the enthusiasm for my work.  I haven't talked up my writing a whole lot with family.  I love answering questions, but I don't want to force a sales pitch on anyone.  Many of them were hugely supportive, and had experienced some of my writing before, whether it be through my personal blog or other avenues.  They see the sky in my future (here's hoping they're right), and want signed copies.  Awesome... but how?

We use a POD and they (CreateSpace) ship right to the customer.  Theoretically, we can "gift" people the book, should one of our less-electronically-inclined relatives desire a print copy.  We're still investigating that.  They give us the cash, then we'll likely just place the order and fill in the shipping info accordingly.  Easy peasy. 

The issue occurs when they want them signed.  You see, even if we're placing the order, the book never actually comes through us.  It is shipped direct.  There is nowhere in the process where I can sign it.  What we can do is have it shipped to us, and then re-ship it to the end customer.  Problem is, the best rate we can find to do this on our own works out to $10 a book with the USPS.  That's a hefty charge to shoulder.

For now, the solution is that we have to pass that cost along to our customer.  You want a signed copy?  Wonderful, it's just going to cost you $10 extra.  We're not making any sort of profit on it, and I'm fine with that.  Heck, I don't even like telling people it's $10 extra even when I can justify it.  I'm just grateful to have them buy a book in the first place.  I guess I feel like my signature should be free, especially to family and friends.  Still, business is business, and they understand this.  I've not had anyone balk at the cost yet. 

We still don't really have a solution for the folks that buy the e-book.  Can't really sign that.  If you want me to sharpie up your Nook/Kindle, I suppose I could accommodate.  For that, though, you're likely going to have to stop by.  I'm imagining some day having one of those huge crayon-like magic pens that you use at Target to sign the credit card screen.  Someone needs to make one that is cheap for authors and can interface with an ebook.  Gold mine, right there.  Someone board that. 

At least we've got a process figured out, though.  Until we discover a better way, that's what we'll be doing.  To finish, here's a look at the word counts:
  • Since last check-in: 5046
  • Fiction: 1917
  • 38% New Fiction
  • Grand Total for the challenge: 26,119
Keep ROW'in!
Read more