Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Publishing Lessons

I've traveled quite a journey during the publishing of my books. My first book was published through AuthorHouse, a subsidy publisher. As subsidy publishers go, AuthorHouse is probably one of the better ones, and I do have a few good memories with them, but mostly the experience was a disappointment for me. Like all publishing houses where you hire them to publish your book, for a rather high fee, if you ask me, they run your baby through their mill and "BAM" you have a book, but really, what exactly do you have? Here is something of what I ended up with.

If you know what you're doing, AuthorHouse can do you good, especially if money isn't much of an issue, but my journey wasn't so simple. You can get a small taste of it here. AuthorHouse puts out a good quality book, mine happened to be error free, and there were a few things their editor caught that had slipped past me. However they did not go any farther than they absolutely had to. My baby was merely $$$ to them and nothing more. I got a cover that could have been better with a tiny bit of coaching on their part. Also with a modicum of effort along the line of word find and replace, they wouldn't have left behind the formatting errors I found AFTER the book was already approved and published.

This book was my first - I mean I knew nothing at all about writing let alone publishing, I was hoping to learn something. Boy, did I. My very expensive lesson? Don't pay for publishing. Don't pay for advertising. And if you are joining a publishing house, don't pay for copying fees, editing, not even the cover. If you are being asked to pay for any of these things, you better also be paying an independent contractor hired for the service BY YOU. If a publishing house offers these things at all, it should be free. A real publishing house makes their money from book sales, not from the writer.

Living in the wilderness can present problems in this writing/publishing journey, so I took my new knowledge and my new internet access and started searching for something that would work for me. I was blessed to find a very understanding publisher who has since published the first two books of my trilogy. Book 3 is due out next summer, and the next book is already sitting there waiting it's turn. It seems he either likes me or he likes my writing - hopefully both.

With this small victory under my belt, I confess to being a little impatient. Without actively searching, I still kept an eye peeled, and upon the recommendation of a friend of mine, I went ahead and submitted to yet another publisher, and low and behold, they too accepted and the publishing process was under way again. Now, while this publisher was a fine publishing machine, I find I preferred the more personal approach I got from my first publisher. I'm not sure I'll publish through them again. Sales haven't been all that great either, while my trilogy is doing very well by comparison. So, is it the publisher? Their advertising? Or is it the book, classified science fiction rather than general fiction? I have no way of knowing. They are all sold on Amazon.

To round out my publishing venture, I took the plunge and, thanks to a very generous donation, I was able to buy an awesome cover for my blog novel. Now that I had a cover, I wanted to turn it into a real book. I tried very hard to make reading the blog as easy as I could, but a blog is what it is, and unless you actively keep up with a blog novel, catching up is kinda awkward. It's still there though if any of you care to take a look. Just follow the link on the right.

At any rate, I couldn't afford an editor so I did it myself with utmost care, and then off to CreateSpace I went with my manuscript and my cover picture. I discovered that it was incredibly easy to do, just follow the directions. The most important part is to take your time and make sure it looks like you want it to. You are given the chance to flip through the pages and check every one. It is my advice that you look at EVERY SINGLE PAGE. Doing so allowed me to discover a tiny mark up near the title of one chapter. I was going to ignore it, it was just a little line, but then I found a couple other little things so I backed up and fixed it all. It's a year old now and so far no one has informed me of finding any errors (whew). The best part, even though I priced it nearly as low as I could, sales were good enough to pay for my internet for two months in a row. It's kind of settled down among the slush pile now even though I advertise every day, but with every new book, the older books seem to awaken a little, and every new friend I make on Facebook just might see my advertising and check out my books, and MAYBE they'll tell their friends and so on.

And so it grows, slowly but steadily. I plug away at expanding my platform. Of late, I've taken to offering what I've learned to anyone who might be interested. I know the value of another pair of eyes and officially offer the service on my website. Most recently I've added ghost writing as well, thanks to negotiations with a friend. I am fully aware that starting writers are seldom financially comfortable, and hopefully I charge accordingly. I'm not trying to get rich, just trying to earn enough to pay for my next cover or to pay for my next book to be edited.

This is my journey so far. Share some of yours.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Head Hopping

What is head hopping? Here is a great place that describes it very well. As you all know, I'm reading this four-book series, the first two books of which I have read before. Now, there are right ways to do head hopping, and the way it is done in this series is one of them, but I still have an issue with it.

If you've read any of my posts, you know that I can be rather OCD when it comes to consistency and logic. In this series, there are three main characters. Written in first person there is the main POV, the girl, and then there are her two guys. Lets call one, her 'Addiction', and one, her 'Perfect' match. If you've read these books, you probably know what books I'm talking about now, because this distinction is in the third book.

I've been in a trio like this exactly once and believe me, I have no desire to ever repeat it. For one evening I thought it would be nice if an ex-boyfriend/still friend returning from basic training in the Air Force could come along on an evening out with me and my current boyfriend. Boy was I mistaken. Current bo driving, me in the middle, ex-bo on my other side in a truck. I don't even remember what we did. There was so much tension in that vehicle, I could have cut it with a knife if I had one. To draw this torture out through all four books is insane, but I digress.

Back to head hopping.

All the way through the first three books, the story follows the girl as she struggles to maintain her relationship with both guys. From her point of view, they fill different places in her heart, but the two guys couldn't possibly be worse enemies. Their feelings for her are all that keeps them from killing each other. There is of course lots of outside drama going on in these books, but this triangle is the core of the entire series.

So, like I said, all the way through the first three books, the story is told from the girl's POV and in first person, then suddenly, in the very last chapter of the third book, we find ourselves in a different location talking to a different character, and saying things that just don't fit. Not that they are not possible, I was just left struggling as to how we got there and why we were talking to this other character, and why they were saying what they were saying. Turns out we were suddenly in the head of Perfect.

There is nothing wrong with the way this POV was changed, it's just ... why wait all the way until the very last chapter of the third book to do it? And why make me struggle for like two pages before telling me I'm now inside the head of Perfect? If you're going to go head hopping in your book, by all means do it right, but also be consistent, and please bring on the clues very early on. At this point, though Perfect's drama was very well written, and I did feel incredibly sorry for him, that feeling was nothing new. I already felt sorry for him, in my opinion, this chapter did not further the story. Nothing would have been lacking if that chapter were left out of the book.

Begin book four and we're back where we are used to being, at least for a little while. Now to a degree, I can understand the structure of book four, but there were opportunities throughout the series for other head hopping that would accentuate the agony of these two guys and give us a window into their thoughts and concerns rather than keeping us guessing like the girl has to. Why are we now sharing only with Perfect? There was a super opportunity to get inside the head of Addiction in book two, but no, we only find out what was happening with him after the girl gets involved with him again, and even then, it's only bits and pieces.

Now that I am this far along in these books, I look back and think that there surely should have been at least one chapter devoted to each guy in each book, course I would have preferred more. I mean, if you're going to do it at all, get into it. Either that or leave out the other POVs altogether. I'm sure us readers could have struggled along just fine, even into the fourth book, with only the one POV as she learns what happens around her like always.

Things like this make me wonder if the publisher was paying attention. Of course, big publishers can't pay intimate attention to any one book, but really, one series should at least have the same editor. I'm convinced this was not the case. A professional editor isn't likely to allow such a drastic change in story structure so late in the course of a series. Or would they? Hmmm Maybe her editor isn't as picky as I am.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Does Carelessness Cost Sales

So what do you think? Would carelessness in formatting cost sales? It's just a formatting issue and not a typo-riddled manuscript.

Anyway, I'm reading this four-part series, and I am half way through. I think I'm into the third book now, I honestly haven't kept track since it's all together. I've read the first two books before; I was able to borrow them from a friend shortly after they were published a few years ago, but those were paperbacks and I honestly can't recall this issue with them, but I no longer have access to them so I can't check. Now I have the whole thing on my Kindle, and I wonder what documents they used for the kindle edition.

I wish I could contact someone, but the author leaves no means of doing so that I can find, so I was forced to mention it in a short review on Goodreads. This issue wouldn't bug me so much if the author wasn't one of those people who went from rags to riches before my eyes (or rather, since I've been online, which isn't long). Me being still on the 'rags' end of that range, I find it incredible that this was allowed to slide. I certainly couldn't afford it.

Here's the issue. An ellipse is '...'. Typed together like that, Word will convert it into a single punctuation mark. When I first started using it, I spaced it out like this ' . . . ' because the single punctuation held the adjoining words together and didn't break across a line like I wanted. Notice there is a space both before and after the spaced-out periods. I since learned that all together is the accepted way so a simple 'find' and 'replace' took care of most instances, and if a line break was called for, a simple space took care of that.

My issue with these books is that appears to be where they stopped in making this correction. Finding ' . . . ' and replacing it with '...' will get you most of the changes, but the 'finder' isn't really very smart; it will only find exactly what you tell it to find and nothing more. I also used ellipses occasionally at the beginning of sentences where the first part wasn't heard, so this search wouldn't touch '. . . ' because there wasn't a space in front of the ellipse. The same goes for those coming at the end of the sentence for much the same reason - no space at the end.

Being a real nut for consistency, this really bugs me. And that's not all. It seems these books were also formatted for SmashWords, or maybe they just wanted to optimize the page breaks, at any rate, rather than uncheck the Windows Orphan control, they inserted page breaks manually. This works just fine in some formats, but sometimes the break shows up out of place as a missing space between words. I'm thinking when they did the incomplete 'find' and 'replace', they didn't go through and fix their manual page breaks. These are few and far between, but they are still there, yelling at me that someone in the editing and formatting department wasn't doing their job. If it were up to me, I'd fire this person and hire someone who cared.

This author is already rich (compared to me anyway), and she has moved on to other books, but unless I am mistaken, this is the series that got her there. To allow it to remain out there full of so many careless errors, is very nearly a writerly crime. I have a first book too. Though it launched me thrillingly into the published world, it has beginner issues I fully intend to fix, so order your copy now so you can have this collector's edition, because you will never see it again. One day, it will reemerge under a shiny new cover, and hopefully all those pesky beginner issues will be weeded out.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Threads We Weave

What is a thread? Or better yet, what is a thread to you? Think about it. Just as your shirt is held together by millions of threads woven and sewn together to make a fine and colorful article of clothing, your story can be constructed much the same way. Each thread adds strength and color to the finished product. So how many threads run through your stories?

There is of course the main thread, where your main character makes his or her way through the pages of your book (or books). But what about the cloth of your story? Where does all the other threads work in? What is a thread?

A thread through your story can be several things. Main ones will of course be your different characters. Everyone has a life, and though secondary characters are far from up front in your story, they still need to have a life. Even if you never mention it, I strongly advise you spend at least a little time on every character in your story and nail down life issues that are more than just appearance. If for just a little while, you consider every character as the main character of their own story, when they walk into your character's story, they will have goals and desires of their own that will dictate or conflict with the choices they have to make as long as they are involved with your character. Can you see how secondary characters with a life can enhance your story? They have an agenda. They have their own plans. With this in mind, it is no longer just a convenient bend in your story to have them work with your character; your character now needs to work a little bit in order to sway them to his side.

Other threads come from events that you plan for your story. Lets use an example here. Lets say your character suddenly needs to know how to ride a motorcycle. It kinda came out of the blue, but for him to chase the bad guy through the open back country, it would be out of place for jeeps, or maybe jeeps couldn't go where your antagonist went with his little dirt bike. So, needing to know how to ride a bike is a thread. You have a decision to make here, weave this thread through your story or just make it so, as Picard used to say on Star Trek. Then again, if this is an all guy kind of story, making it so might be just fine.

Lets try a different example. Your character is on a treasure hunt and he finds several items. Lets say he finds ten items, and together they weigh one hundred pounds. What is the decision he needs to make here? How can one move one hundred pounds of valuable, irreplaceable, irretrievable items? Does he leave some behind anyway? He might have to. Or maybe, he has his truck just outside. Hmmm Can he do it? Can he move them all? But the thread is preparing him for this find. Where did the truck come from? How did he get it there? That is the thread.

Every decision your characters make can turn into a thread. Every detail has roots and branches, and it all weaves together to make a tapestry with depth, color and strength, a tapestry comfortable enough to snuggle in with for the long haul. So how do you weave your story?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Names You Choose

So what is your world like? Is it Earth-like? Extraterrestrial? Extradimentional? Or completely fantastical in one manner or another? Regardless, how do you generate the names you use in your world?

Tom, Dick, and Harry would work fine for an Earth-like world, but you still need to consider last names, unless you don't ever use them. There are also lots of options and resources when choosing names for your Earth characters and places, but what about those off-world stories. Now you can fall back on those same resources if your world happens to be an Earth colony, even if they have been long since cut off from Earth. But what about the completely fantastical, totally disconnected from Earth, world? Lets start by considering the history of names.

As I understand it, most names originated as a means of identifying a person by their job or status, but there can only be so many Carpenters, Smiths, and Carters, so they started attaching first names. Of course language and custom would have quite a bit to do with what names were chosen. Now how they decided on first, or given, names is unclear to me. Maybe some of them were just made up, maybe some of them were a bastardization of something they heard from another language as people started to travel, following the latest war or trying to run a trading route of one sort or another. Another thing to remember is that in many cultures, gender has an affect on the spelling of whatever name is chosen.

If your characters have never originated from Earth, there may be different customs involved in choosing names. For the names in my book, The Speed of Dreams, I went to a Dungeons & Dragons name list I have, and those with an apostrophe in the middle caught my eye, I morphed them some to fit the rhythm I wanted. I then decided on the custom that the clan name, or last name as we know it here, comes before the apostrophe. I got this idea from oriental names where the family name traditionally comes before the given name.

I've referred several times to my D&D list of names. It's extensive, including dwarven names as well as place names. It's great for sparking ideas when my mind draws a blank.

Now I've talked a lot about naming your characters, but character names isn't the only thing you need to consider. If your world is totally disconnected from Earth, it is highly unlikely they're going to give other things the same names we have. For the gist of your story, you can allow such things as buildings, mountains, and grass to exist, even trees can be called trees, but there's no reason to believe they'd be called Birch trees, or Spruce trees, and the flowers your hero is giving to his girl probably wouldn't be called Daisies or Roses, so you'll have to get creative all over again.

Naming these things, whatever you decide to name, isn't the only option. Who knows, there might even be cultures somewhere where a person has no name at all until he or she does something spectacular. In my soon to be released book, Half-Breed, in a culture where twins are common, identical twins were given the same name.

“When twins are born who are alike, it is common for them to share a name. It is thought that since the ancestors caused them to share a soul, it would be presumptuous of us to separate them by a name.”
Choosing names can have so many layers of meaning, so have fun creating the foundation for your names. Even if you never explain what you've done, the detail will show, and it will also add life to your story.

What customs underlie your names?