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

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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.

So You Want To Make Your Own #Book Cover #indie

The average indie author doesn’t have very much money to spend on producing books, especially when they first start. I’m with you. The costs pile up fast.

Tools (computer and software)–$150 and up. Fortunately, this is a one-time or infrequent expense.
Copyediting–$500 and up for a novel-length work.
Cover–$100 and up for something worth paying for.
Marketing–$infinity, forever.

And these are just the obvious expenses. Not included: bribing your friends for feedback, attending and travelling to seminars, conferences, and/or conventions, memberships in assorted professional organizations, ISBNs, copyright protections, formatting, proof copies, structural editing, proofreading, and on and on.

Once you realize the cost of producing a quality book has four digits, you look for ways to reduce that number. This is why we have blogs, social media accounts, and email newsletters–all that stuff is free. Many new indie authors use friends–qualified or not–to beta read, copyedit, and proofread their first book or two. But that cover? Psh, anyone can make a book cover. Right?

Wrong.

Unless you already have experience and some expertise using a robust graphics program, such as Photoshop, GIMP, or CorelDraw, stop. You cannot make a quality book cover in Paint or the Createspace Cover Creator*. Full stop. Don’t do it, because those covers scream “AMATEUR HOUR!” Understanding how to use the majority of the tools in your graphics program of choice is essential. Take a class or run through tutorials. Some folks learn best by trying to do, but you have to get the basics down before you get to work.

Once you’ve got that under your belt, learn some basic graphic design. As above, you can take classes or run through tutorials. If you can find a tutorial specific to book covers, that’s great, but overall design concepts are important too.

Ready to get cracking? Great.

Step 1: Put Photoshop away and do some research. Go to Amazon. Browse Kindle books. Click into the subgenres until you find the one your book will fit into. Look at those covers. Check the Top 100. Do this at least twice over 2-4 weeks, because the subcategories fluctuate. These covers are what people associate with the type of book you’re trying to sell. You want your book to fit into this group well enough for readers to see it belongs in that category.

Are they illustrated or designed? Simple or complex? Which ones stand out and catch your eye the most? Which ones look stupid to you? What fonts do they use? Do they feature people or things? Get the idea.

If illustration is the norm for your subcategory, take a long, hard look at your finances and strongly consider hiring an artist, at least for the illustration itself. You can still design a cover and fit in, but the subtleties of manipulation are probably beyond your skills.

Step 2: Come up with a basic idea for the cover of your book. If you have no idea, start with your protagonist(s). Warning! The more people (or any other kind of element) you put on your cover, the more challenging the design becomes to balance. Don’t use more than two people, and use only one if you can. A book cover isn’t the same thing as a movie poster. Movie posters use recognizable stars or lavish costumes/makup/critters to sell the story. Book covers use elements to explain what the book is about and project an overall commitment to quality on the part of the author.

Step 3: Find stock images. There are over a dozen good stock image sites, and you can also find free images of high quality on a number of sites. Do not use an image on your book cover unless you pay for a standard license (at this stage, extended licenses are unnecessary) or are absolutely sure you’re allowed to use it for commercial purposes for free. Random images on the internet are not free for commercial purposes unless explicitly described as such by surrounding text.

Step 4: Find fonts. If you don’t already have the most popular fonts in your subgenre, get them. You may have to purchase them, or you may be able to find them for free. If you do find a free font you like, make sure it’s free for commercial use.

Step 5: Check the file size requirements for everywhere you plan to publish your book. Ebook covers and print covers are different sizes and shapes.

Step 6: Arrange elements and manipulate them. Rearrange and re-manipulate. Look up tutorials for specific effects you want to create. Save intermediate versions with stuff you like so you can revert. Show your work to someone else for an outside opinion. Just like with the text of your book, you’ll grow immune to the glaring faults. Rearrange and re-manipulate again.

Step 7: When you feel like you’ve got a final version, compare it to the current Top 100 for your subgenre. Ask someone else to perform that comparison. If it seems like it fits in and doesn’t inaccurately depict the book, congratulations, you’ve got a cover. If not, go back to Step 6.

Looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it? That’s why so many of us pay people to do this. If you aren’t willing to invest your time in learning basic design principles and how to use the tools to create your cover, pay someone who already has. If you aren’t willing to put in the time required to find stock images and manipulate them, pay someone who is. Pre-made covers are often good quality for a low price, and an excellent way to begin your career.

Good luck, intrepid indie.

*This isn’t strictly true, but Paint and similarly simplistic programs don’t have complex enough tools to be worth using for the vast majority of covers. They work for poetry books, and that’s about it.

Year-End Wrapup #amwriting

Because I’ll be traveling from now until January, and 2016 has been the worst year ever, I thought now might be a good time to talk about some of the really good things that happened this year.

I’m thinking.

Hm. This is a tougher topic than I thought.

I jest. Here is a full list of everything I released or was published in this year, in order. That’s a good start. You can find all these listed on my Amazon profile page.

Dragons In Chains audiobook
Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions
Dragons In Flight audiobook
SK 2: Backyard Dragons
SK 3: Ethereal Entanglements
Merely This And Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk
Unnatural Dragons
TGS 4: Illusive Echoes
Superheroes In Denim
Missing Pieces VII
Darkside Seattle: Street Doc
Girls Can’t Be Knights audiobook
Artifact (mistakenly credited as Emily French)
Backyard Dragons audiobook

The work for the Ethereal Entanglements audiobook is almost done, and it’ll be released in January. And at the moment, I have a handful of stories waiting for publication, another handful waiting for revision, a few half-finished draft 1-1.5s, and a couple of outlines waiting in the queue. Don’t expect me to slow down in 2017.

These are all the conventions my books appeared at for sale (in some cases without me). This list doesn’t include 11 non-convention-type events, and it’s possible I forgot something.

OrcaCon
Rustycon
MythicWorlds
Radcon
Portland Spring Home & Garden Show
Norwescon
The Brass Screw Confederacy
Westercon
CapitalIndieBookCon
GenCon
MaLCon
MidAmericon II (WorldCon)
Rose City Comic Con
Steamposium
GeekGirlCon
Portland Fall Home & Garden Show
Central City Comic Con
Renton City Comic Con
Jet City Comic Show
Eucon
OryCon

Put those two lists together, and it’s fair to say I did a lot of stuff this year. Sometimes it was exhausting, sometimes it was frustrating, and sometimes it was boring as hell. But most of the time, it was awesome. In 2017, this list will be shorter. Because it was a tough schedule to keep, and I would like to spend more time on the writing part than the selling part.

Oh, and then there’s this one other, little thing. Trifling, really. Minor. Not a big deal.

I lied. IT’S TOTALLY A BIG DEAL. SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is sort of like the union for professional F/SF writers (of the American variety). It’s been around since before I was born, and has always been, to me, a kind of pie-in-the-sky thing to belong to. Real F/SF authors belong to that. Last week, my inbox included a message opening with this:sfwaapprove

This couldn’t have happened without two very important people. First, you. Anyone who bought a copy of Girls Can’t Be Knights or read it on KU is responsible for this. Thank you, you’re awesome! Please consider writing a review if you haven’t and also reading book 2 and 3 (*bright smile*). Second, Cat Rambo, whose rise to the position of President of SFWA made it possible for indies like me to join the organization without a traditional book contract. Also, Cat is a wonderful, supportive person and amazing writer. Read Beasts of Tabat if you haven’t yet.

Hopefully, despite all the horrible crap that’s happened this year, you also have some bright spots and accomplishments to look back on and bask in. As we plunge into the deepest, darkest part of the year, hold onto those and take a day to enjoy whatever you can with whomever you consider family. 2017 is looking like it might also be a bumpy ride.

Let It Snow. Not.

Some readers may be aware I lived in Worcester, MA for several years before moving to Olympia, WA a little over two years ago. In Worcester, we routinely had snow by Christmas. Over the course of any given winter, we got between five to seven feet of the stuff, averaging around six feet.

One of the big draws of Olympia was the lack of snow. In an average winter, Olympia gets between one and two feet. These past two winters, the weather managed to produce a few mornings with a bit of ice on the road, and several with frost on the plants. About which I cheered, because I have had enough of snow shoveling to last me forever, thanks.

SNOW

The view out my front door in Worcester during a blizzard in 2014. This was daytime. We wound up with about 2 feet of snow from that event, if memory serves. It took most of a day to dig out that 40 feet of driveway.

I understand the lack of snow here has been abnormal, and that’s fine. I’ve enjoyed it, though. My son has enjoyed it less, because he liked the days off school and sledding. My autistic daughter is perfectly fine with no snow. She hates wearing her coat and likes going to school. So, 2/3 of us win.

It snowed here in Olympia. In this case, I use the word “snowed” loosely.

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I had to search to find the newspaper because it wound up on the grass and got covered with snow. The horror!

I looked outside in the darkness of early morning and saw snow falling in the glow of a streetlamp. Great, fluffy, fat flakes hit the pavement and promptly melted. All the glory of snow, no shoveling and no snow days.

This is the best place ever.

By the way, the audiobook for Backyard Dragons releases today. Just mentioning it. And if you’re interested, I can confirm that at least two short stories from the Spirit Knights series will be published in anthologies this year. Another anthology will contain an Ilauris short!