Release Day! #ebook #books #NewRelease #YA

Portland has a mutant cockroach problem.

Book 4 of the Spirit Knights series is a real thing, not just a cover anymore. The pre-order has been 99 cents, and the actuality is now still 99 cents until I wake up tomorrow morning (3/22) and change it to regular price.

Ghost Is the New Normal picks up where Ethereal Entanglements left off, finishing up the Thanksgiving weekend. Now, even more to be thankful for! If you’re new to the series, the series kicks off with Girls Can’t Be Knights. This series is also available in audiobook. Book 4’s audio releases one week from today, on the 28th.

And remember, be kind to your indies: leave reviews! You don’t have to wax poetic or barf out paragraphs about it, just leave a sentence or two about the things you loved (or hated) the most.

Cheers!

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.


I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

So You Want To Be A Beta Reader #books #indie #amwriting

Authors need beta readers. Most of us can’t afford to pay anyone for this service. As a result, we wind up getting friends, family, and/or colleagues to do it for us. But what is beta reading? What does a beta reader do? Why do we need them?

A beta reader is a person who reads the first or second draft of a novel to give critique feedback for how to revise it. Fact-checking is also welcome, especially when the work involves real history, science, or a profession the reader is involved in.

A beta reader is not a person who checks grammar, spelling, or other mechanical issues unless asked to. Most authors do appreciate the catching of typos or repeated mistakes, but it’s not the point of beta reading because many parts may wind up being rewritten.

Authors need this for the same reason any artist needs this: we’re too close to the work to see the problems. Plot points, characters, and setting bits can be much less awesome on the page than in our heads. Someone outside our brains needs to tell us so the work becomes a better version of itself.

What is critique feedback?

Critique and criticism are not the same thing. The two words are considered synonyms, but they have different meanings in the writing world. In general, the intent is the difference.

Criticism is the kind of stuff you find in negative reviews, where readers complain about bad writing, not understanding the plot, or characters who lack believability. Those who offer it generally have no investment in the writer and don’t care if they improve or not. They may or may not have ill intent, just as they may or may not be petty or cruel. Regardless of intent, criticism is rarely helpful because it doesn’t offer actual insights for improvement. Or, if it does, the degree of negativity overrides any value the recipient might get from it.

Critique, on the other hand, is about finding the problems and engaging with them. It comes from a position of wanting to help. Good critique points out positive points as well as negative. This specific difference is what makes critique valuable. If you only hear that plot point C is bad, you may not realize that plot point D is excellent, and your revisions may change both to produce something lesser on the whole.

Thus, a good beta reader does the following:

  1. Gives an overall opinion.
  2. Points out the best parts.
  3. Points out the worst parts.
  4. Avoids making it personal–this is about the writing, not the writer.
  5. Keeps their own ego out of it.

Beta readers should ask questions and tag sections that don’t work with an explanation of why (“I don’t know why” is completely valid). If you have ideas for how to fix problems, present them as opinion, not The Best/Only Way. Tag sections that work well. If you can, have a conversation with the writer to help them understand what went wrong.

Above all, don’t go into a beta reading with the expectation of loving or hating the project. If you have a predetermined opinion of the writing, you won’t notice anything that fails to conform to your expectations. And remember, you’re one of the first people to see the work! It might change a little or a lot after your feedback is taken into account.

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order: Ghost Is the New Normal

sk4ecover

Book 4 is a real thing with a real release date: March 21, 2017. It has a pre-order at only 99 cents (this price will only last until March 22!), and it’s all ready to go so I can have copies in hand for Norwescon (Seatac, April 13-16). The audiobook is scheduled for release one week later, on March 28. I’m excited about this one because it has giant mutant cockroaches. And also ghosts and dragons, of course.

Claire has a big problem, Drew has a smaller problem, and Justin gets to have some fun. Iulia causes trouble. Avery is sensible. Enion remains adorable and Tariel is still the only real grownup in the room. If you’re new to this series, check out where it begins with Girls Can’t Be Knights, available in ebook, paperback, and audio!

With this book’s release on the horizon, I can now also officially state for the record that the Spirit Knights series will have a total of 5 books. That’s right, Number Five will be Number Last for the series. But that’s not the last you’ll see of Claire, Drew, Justin, and the rest of the crew. Claire and Justin kind of already aren’t Spirit Knights anymore, you see. I freely admit that this series began with a book I wasn’t expecting to make into a series. It’s gone places I didn’t really foresee. As such, the series title doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense anymore.

Which is why, following book 5 of Spirit Knights, I’m shifting to a different line of attack with this stuff. There will be more stories, some about Claire and some not. They’ll all take place in the same world where Portland is extra-weird. But they won’t all take place in Portland, or even in the PNW. I’m looking forward to spending time with the kind of people affected by [spoiler] [spoiler], and [spoiler].

Single on VDay #BikerChicks #Romance #MC

…And happy about it.

Valentine’s Day has always been a day I’ve looked at with the intent to do something nice for someone else. In my youth, I thought that meant buying a card and signing it. Later, I thought it meant spending extra time to prepare a special meal. Now, I’m pretty sure it means to get my mom some flowers while she still copes with the loss of my dad.

Do I care in the slightest that I haven’t got a special someone of some sort? Nope. Not a jot. Am I happy for you if you do? Yep. Does it bother me to see pictures of engagement rings, elaborate romantic gestures, or remembrances about how many years other people have been together? Nope. It does bother me a smidge when I see people gushing over romantic movies that I don’t think actually are. A bit. A trifle. But taste is what it is, and I’m not chuffed that other folks like stuff I don’t.

Am I kind of a hippie? Maybe.

I would like to take a moment of your time to pimp a charity anthology a friend of mine cares deeply about. It’s erotica romance, something I read from time to time when the story interests me. So if that’s not your bag or you happen to be a minor, I hope you have a pleasant day and find a way to spread a little love and/or happiness today. And stay tuned for an announcement about Ghost Is the New Normal next week!

Biker Chicks 3 is the third in a series of anthologies for which the profits go to BACA–Bikers Against Child Abuse. I’m happy to provide support to that notable group.

BIKER CHICKS is full of sexy stories about women who ride, whether they be lone wolves or part of a gang. Some of the best authors in MC romance along with some new names and faces to the genre tell us how these strong women find the sexual satisfaction and romance we all long for, for one of the best causes.

Authors in this Anthology include…

Susan Child
MariaLisa deMora
A.J. Downey
Emma Lee
Vera Quinn
K. Renee
Bibi Rizer
G.M. Scherbert
Erin Trejo

The Dreaded Blurb #amwriting #writingtips

Most indie authors hate writing the sales copy for their books. Alas, we have to do it anyway. Part of being an indie means taking a DIY approach to publishing. Traditional publishing houses have a staff of people who take a basic list of facts from the book and churn out sales copy. Indies do the same, only at lower speed.

There are authors who like writing blurbs. I’ve met a few. Every bunch has its weirdoes, and all of us creative types are already weird to begin with. I’m not one of these individuals. I hate doing it.

What is a blurb? It’s a bit of text designed to make you want to buy a book. Authors spend hours poring over 3-10 sentences to tweak them for maximum impact without giving away the story while remaining true to said story. We take classes on this, float them with our fellow sufferers, and think hard about hitting things. Then we give up, barf the stuff out because we have to, and move on.

At this point, I’ve written or helped write blurbs for 20+ different books, stories, and anthologies. Some are great. Others are… I’m just not going back and fixing them, okay? I have other things to do and blurbs suck.

Why do we hate them?

  1. I’m a fiction writer, Jim. Not a copywriter.
  2. I just spent 3-9 months writing and revising this book, and now you want it condensed into a snappy few paragraphs? *rage-filled bellow*
  3. “Buy this book, it’s awesome.” doesn’t work. Damn you, reader. Damn you.

Some tips to help you get your blurb going:

  1. Make a list of all the words that might apply to your book’s theme, plot, and characters. Include nouns (proper or not), adjectives, and verbs.
  2. If your book has more than one main character, pick the most important one or two. If you pick two, be aware most readers will expect a romantic plot or subplot involving them, unless you make it clear that won’t happen. Mention they’re siblings, bitter enemies, or whatever.
  3. Avoid the verb “to be”. In fiction writing, you generally avoid this verb anyway, right? (Hint: you should. Only use it when there’s no better verb to express something.) This verb is nothing more than an equal sign. Your blurb needs action words loaded with meaning.
  4. If you write for an age category that isn’t adults, the main character needs their age stated. Such as, “Sixteen-year-old Claire wants her father back.” If, instead, you write for adults, do not include the age of your protagonist. Likewise, if you write about non-human beings, age is irrelevant.
  5. Go to Amazon and browse to the appropriate subcategory for your book. Read some blurbs. Get the feel for how they sound and look.
  6. Read this: http://graemeshimmin.com/writing-a-logline-for-a-novel/
  7. Use the logline from Step 6 and your word list as a starting point. Barf up a couple of paragraphs. Try to hit about 200 words. Anywhere between 100 and 400 is fine, but 200 is a good length. Avoid giving away spoilers, twists, or the plot. Don’t summarize. Instead, set the stage. Who is the protagonist? What are the stakes of their journey? What’s super-cool about that journey? What kind of book is it (mention the fantasy kingdom, the dragons, the space station, the backwoods resort, or whatever to give readers an extra clue about the genre)? Anything that happens in the first 3-4 chapters is fair game, but don’t bring up stuff from later in the book.
  8. As with all writing, let someone else read it. Preferably, ask veteran indie authors to read it and offer suggestions.
  9. Revise it 1-500000 times.
  10. Yay! You’re done!

Even though this is a short piece of work, I recommend setting aside an entire day to get to Step 8. Writing a blurb is like writing poetry, in that every word has to be deliberate and packed with meaning. It also needs to sell the book, which is hard work when you normally write fiction. Take your time and get feedback, even after you’ve been doing it for a while.

#Christmas In London

When my dad began chemo, he asked me one important question.

“Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d really like to?”

I had plenty of smartass answers, but I blurted out the real one anyway. For a long time, I’ve wanted to go to England and see a real castle. He chose to make that a reality for me, so here I am, spending my Christmas holiday in London. It’s been somewhat surreal. I’ve had proper tea, eaten in a dozen types of restaurant, and seen Stonehenge (I understand that last one is required by law of all tourists, or something like that). Still have a few things on my list, and a few days left to do it all.

This all started, of course, with a disaster. December 17th at Early o’clock, I took my kids to the airport to discover our flight had been cancelled (notice issued while we were already in the car). Southwest couldn’t get us onto another flight until Monday, which would not do. I had a flight Sunday morning to London. I dragged my kids, one crying and the other cranky huffing, across the airport and found another flight to Washington, DC.

Naturally, this didn’t go smoothly. We wound up in Detroit for way too long as our flight got delayed, and then delayed again. Half past midnight, we landed in DC. The kids went with their dad and I hunkered down in Dulles to not sleep for a few hours until my flight to London that morning.

But wait. It gets better. 6am, waiting for a Delta flight to JFK to get to the cross-Atlantic flight, the agent at the gate pointed out that the flight to JFK arrived at the departure time for the London flight, which clearly wouldn’t work. Apparently, the JFK flight had been schedule changed at some point, making the connection impossible. She rebooked me onto the later London flight direct from DC to London.

For fun, because Dad was footing the bill and it’s a long flight, I’d gotten first class on Virgin America. In case anyone is curious, they have a lounge at Dulles for first class passengers. The later flight required an 8 hour or so wait, most of which got spent napping and nibbling in that lounge. Thank goodness for that lounge. Over the course of about 30 hours, I’d gotten maybe 3 hours of sleep in 30-45 minute bursts. In that lounge, I napped again. On the flight, I practically passed out, but only for 4 hours.

Oh, and they have a lounge on the other end too. With showers. Which came in handy since I arrived at 8am and the hotel had a 3pm check-in time. And then, finding food and crashing for much sleep.

An adventure, to be sure.

For the record, The Virgin and Delta employees I interacted with were extremely nice and helpful. I’ve been a Southwest customer for a while, because cheap. I’m rethinking that now. Cheap != best.

Happy holidays. May yours be less exhausting than mine. Unless you like exhausting holidays. Some people are like that. More power to ya.