Category Archives: Random Book-related Misc

Posts about books, reading, and publishing that don’t fit in another category.

The Agonizing Process of Titling Stories #amwriting #writingtips

For most books, I have little trouble with titles. By the time it’s gone through revisions, I have a solid enough grounding to spitball some ideas and mush words together. Sometimes, I start writing with a title already in mind, as with the Spirit Knight series after book 1.

For short stories, that’s a whole different ball of wax. I hate coming up with short story titles. There’s no functional difference between titling a novel and something shorter, but I still view it in a similar fashion as this:

Nope. Nopity nope nope with a side of nope and some nopesauce on top.

Ah, the stuff of nightmares. Here’s what I do to come up with titles when they don’t spring forth.

  1. Look for words or phrases that pop up often, aside from common words. This is where Girls Can’t Be Knights came from.
  2. Use the main character’s name, title, or job as either the whole title or part of it. This is the source of Al-Kabar and Street Doc.
  3. Make a list of words similar to the one I use for writing the blurb. Smoosh them together until you find something cool. This is where the titles from The Greatest Sin come from.
  4. Get frustrated when none of the above work and spitball stupid titles with friends until something accidentally fits or is close. This is how I wound up with Dragons In Pieces and the rest of that trilogy.

The title is important for a book because it’s one of the elements on the cover. As such, it needs to contribute to the ability of the cover to sell the story.

See? It kinda helps. You want to read this, at least partly because of the title. Really, you do. Trust me. I’m super trustworthy.

With a short story or other piece not intended to stand on its own–because it’ll appear in an anthology, ezine, or similar venue–the title isn’t as important. In that case, the title is more about differentiating stories by the same author and giving some context to the story. The title isn’t going to appear on a cover, and it’s not going to sell anything on its own. In reality, we could probably all just number our short stories and achieve the same effect.

Sadly, no one seems to think that’s acceptable. “Story A4.3” Probably wouldn’t work for a fantasy or romance title anyway, so this may be for the best.

To find some exemplar short story titles, I mined a few award nomination lists and ezines, trying not to select famous ones on purpose.

Selkie Stories Are for Losers
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love
A Green Silk Dress and a Wedding-Death
Today, I am Paul
Ten Half-Pennies
The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family
Jackalope Wives

As you can see, there’s a lot of variance, which means you can do whatever you want. Ideally, a story title will offer some insight into the story by providing a piece of context the reader might not otherwise grasp in a nod to the theme. If that’s too daunting a task, smoosh words that fit the theme together until something makes you happy. That’s kind of what writing is like anyway.

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.

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.

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.